Harris County wrestling team has high hopes heading into area tournament

January 31, 2013 

HAMILTON, Ga. -- It was difficult for members of the Harris County wrestling team to describe what it felt like when they clinched their first city championship in school history last weekend.

Words like "amazing" were tossed around frequently, and there were plenty of smiles and shaking heads.

"It's an incredible feeling," said Tyler DeNova, who won an individual championship in the 195-pound weight class, his second individual title in a row. "Winning the individual championship was great, of course, but nothing beats winning it as a team."

It's easy to understand the hype. The Tigers had 11 wrestlers place at city, the most in school history, outpacing Smiths Station, arguably the best team in the area. Three of the Tigers' 13 wrestlers took individual championships and one was a runner-up.

Having already left its mark locally, though, Harris County, which has had a mostly up-and-down season to date, is looking to take it a step further when it begins the Area 1-AAAAA tournament on Saturday at Lee County High.

That's something coach Dave Dennie has stressed.

"How do you want to leave your mark?" Dennie asked. "That's what I've been asking these kids. What do you want your legacy to be here at Harris County?"

The answer from the wrestlers is simple: Team success.

They, like the football team did before them in the fall, want to turn a season marked by some level of inconsistency into the best in school history.

Wins against Northside and Columbus and then at the city championship certainly have the team feeling like that's a possibility.

"It's a big push, winning city like that," said Jay Ellison, city champion in the 285-pound division. "It motivates us and lets us know that the sky is the limit."

"At the same time, you don't want to be too confident," added Chris Drake, winner at 106 pounds last weekend.

"You can't be cocky in the next match."

And while Dennie said that it is always a challenge to keep young athletes grounded after major success, for the most part the wrestlers have stayed focused.

"I think maybe we relaxed a little bit right at first, so I just had to remind them we've got work left to do," he said. "They have responded well, though. You don't ever want to relax."

Like the seniors wrestling in their final seasons, leaving a mark is more literal for Dennie, who is coaching his final season with the Tigers.

Ellison said that part of leaving their mark as a team is helping the coach go out on a high note.

"We want to help him leave his legacy, too," Ellison said. "Same for the seniors. We all want to leave this school successfully."

That may mean winning the area tournament. That's certainly a goal for the team, which will enter as one of the favorites.

While that's the immediate goal, however, the area tournament also serves as a means for individuals to advance to sectionals. Getting as many wrestlers to the next competition is the main mission for Dennie.

"Anything less than first place this weekend will be a bit of a disappointment," he said.

"When the bar is raised, you have to work that much harder to reach it. One of the main things is getting the individuals to advance, though. The more we have at sections, then the more we have at state."

Asked for a number of wrestlers he hopes to see advance, he said all 13 but added that 11 was a realistic expectation.

If they can do that, leaving their mark will just be a formality.

"We've got guys that I think can compete well at state," DeNova said. "We really have high expectations at this point."

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571

AREA TOURNAMENTS

Today-Saturday

Carver at Area 2-AAA tournament (at Central-Carrollton)

Spencer, Kendrick at Area 2-AA tournament (at Monticello)

Columbus, Shaw at Area 5-AAAA tournament (at LaGrange)

Brookstone, Pacelli at Area 4-A tournament (at Landmark Christian)

Saturday

Hardaway, Harris County, Northside at Area 1-AAAAA tournament (at Lee County)

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