It’s not easy to roll out of bed on a nice day and go spend two hours or so working out in a small confined room learning the art of wrestling.
But that was what Richmond Hill’s first girls wrestling team did last summer under the guidance of Coach Tony Dragon. The Wildcats got their just rewards last Friday night when they finished second in the Area 1 duals (team) wrestling tournament.
Greenbrier won the tournament but the Wildcats’ second-place finish earned them a trip to the GHSA state championship meet. The top two teams in the eight-area tournament will compete at the University of West Georgia on Jan. 26-27.
Richmond Hill’s boys also advanced as they took second to defending state champion Camden County. The Wildcats defeated Colquitt County, 40-29, before losing to Camden and then defeated Lowndes County, 57-12, to take second.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Dragon said of his team advancing. “One of our goals was to make the state tournament and this puts us in the top 16 teams in the state.”
This is the first year the GHSA has limited girls to wrestling only against girls and sponsored a girls-only state tournament which has spurred a tremendous amount of growth in the sport.
Unlike the boys tournament which will crown champions in seven classes, the girls event is an all-classes tournament which explains why Class 7A Richmond Hill faced off against Class A county rival Bryan County in its opening match.
The Wildcats defeated the Redskins (54-18), lost to Greenbrier (53-24) and then earned their state tournament berth with wins over Long County (54-18) and Burke County (42-30).
Prior to this season, girls were permitted to wrestle against boys in regular season matches and practice. In the state traditional (individual) tournament they wrestled against girls.
One of the benefactors of that cross over competition was Wildcats standout junior Izzy West who was 13-2 last year and was a third-place finisher at 110-pounds in the girls all-classes tournament. Going into this season she was the only member of the team who had wrestling experience.
“Izzy has been wrestling great all year as we all knew she would,” Dragon said. “She went 4-0 in the area at 120 pounds. She’ll be one of the favorites in her weight class.
“The competition in the lower weight classes is really tough.”
Isla Scott (170) was 3-0 while the Wildcats also got strong performances from Kaitlyn Platt who was 3-1 at 140, Rymonea Rivers was 3-1 at 155 and Savannah Morgan was 3-1 at 135.
“Rymonea has really come along and is wrestling strong,” Dragon said. “Kaitlyn is wrestling great and Amelia Wickline (130) has had a really solid season. They’re all newcomers to the sport and we’ve seen a lot of improvement.”
Dragon set up a competitive schedule and it has paid dividends while garnering some confidence-building success along the way. The team, he said, won two tournaments and finished second in another.
“We had a lot of little goals going forward but the thing I’m most proud of is our retention,” Dragon said. “We haven’t lost anyone since we started and we’re all underclassmen.”
“Wrestling is not for everyone. It’s a hard sport and to keep all the girls through the season, the holiday break, dealing with nagging injuries and so forth. That says a lot about them as individuals.”
The biggest improvement he’s seen, Dragon said, is in technique and for that he is most grateful to have assistant coach Jeff Sheets on board.
“Jeff has a great wrestling background,” Dragon said. “He started wrestling when he was four years old and was a wrestling coach in Kansas for 20 years. He’s a history teacher here and I talked him out of ‘retirement’ to help us.
“He’s our main technique coach and he’s done a great job with the girls,” Dragon said. “They’ve really responded to his coaching. He’s a tremendous asset to the program.”