VALDOSTA -- They are longshots to win it, but the Valdosta High wrestling team is still looking forward to competing in the state dual meet this weekend.
State duals will run today and Saturday at McEachern High in Powder Springs. The top two teams from each of the eight regions in Class AAAAA will compete with the hope of becoming state champions.
Valdosta will wrestle No. 8 Henry County at 4:30 p.m. in their first-round dual match. Region 1-AAAAA champion Lee County wrestles Stockbridge in another first round match.
In the past, teams were eliminated after they lost their dual. But this year, in order to guarantee each team at least two matches, the GHSA put in a consolation bracket for teams to go into after they lose, making the tournament double-elimination until the finals.
"We saw Henry County at Northside-Warner Robins. They won the tournament," Valdosta head coach Benji Scarbor said. "We know they're tough, we sort of know what they've got. As a coach, I'm not (calling us the favorites)."
Scarbor would be more optimistic if he had a full team that had wrestled all year. But injuries have claimed a couple of key wrestlers and grades took four more wrestlers, and seriously weakened the usually-strong Wildcats. In the place of those wrestlers, Scarbor has had to put mostly guys with less than a year's experience, and even had to forfeit a match or two at most meets.
"Losing those guys really hurt us," Scarbor said. "If we hadn't lost some of those guys, we might be looking at winning another region championship, and winning some matches at state."
Actually, while they're in the process of being big underdogs, the Wildcats regret that they can't wrestle the best in the state.
"We wanted to wrestle Parkview. We wanted to compete against the No. 1 team in the state," Scarbor said. "That way, our wrestlers would get to compete against the best, and that would help them improve the most."
While he still plans to go after a team victory, Scarbor's main goal is getting experience for his wrestlers as they prepare for the Region 1-AAAAA individual tournament next weekend and the state individual meet Feb. 20-21.
"We're looking to get some of these kids the experience," Scarbor said. "I especially want my main six to get a couple of matches in this weekend. Those guys can compete with anybody."
Scarbor's main six are: senior Corey Terrell (103 pounds), Marcus Morrison (112), Tavarus Sharp (125), Chad Hensley (135), Paul Bess (160) and Jamal Scott (171). Scarbor thinks all of them will compete for the region titles in their weight classes, and could win some matches at state (particularly Scott, who is ranked in the state's top two at 171).