Richmond Hill advanced to the Elite Eight of the GHSA Class 6A Dual State Championship last Saturday while Bryan County’s magical run was halted in the Sweet Sixteen.
Led by senior Caleb Gonser at 195 lb. class and heavyweight Thomas Crawford the Wildcats blew past Hughes 69-3 and old nemesis Pope, 43-24, to reach the state championship meet which will be Saturday at Brunswick High School.
The top eight teams in the round of 32 meet qualified for the state finals and will be seeded this week by the GHSA. Region 2-6A will have two teams in the eight-team field as Brunswick also qualified. Buford will be back to defend its state championship.
Following the state duals finals will be the area/region Traditional Tournament on Jan. 28-29 where wrestlers will be looking to qualify both as a team and as individuals for the state tournament to be held in Macon on Feb. 10-12.
While participating on the big stage is no big deal for Richmond Hill—it won the state duals in 2018—it was a wholly new experience for the Redskins who only took up wrestling last year.
Bryan County beat Marion County in its opening round match before getting losing to No. 1 Trion. The Redskins had qualified by finishing third behind Screven County and Dublin in the area tournament.
“We’ve had a phenomenal season,” Redskins Coach Zach Ledbetter said. “We had only four returnees from last year and we currently have 23 boys wrestling. Most of them are freshmen (11) and six of them start.”
Jayden Lee (113), Colton Gunter (126), Jaylan Davis (132), Miguel Bustamante (138), Jorge Jimenez (145), John Wanzer (152), Bryce Thomas (160), Raul Parrish (170), Rylan Hernandez (182), Tarrell Singleton (220) and Jett Lewis (285) all posted wins in the match with Marion.
Ledbetter was hired as the wrestling coach in the summer of 2020 to get the program started and he obviously has it going in the right direction.
“We finished the season last year with eight boys and four of them came back,” Ledbetter said. “John Wanzer, Jett Lewis, Tarrell Singleton and Raul Parrish returned, and they’ve done more than wrestle for us.”
“All four of them have worked on recruiting their friends to wrestle and helped out in a lot of ways that you don’t see on the surface.”
The Redskins took their lumps last year as no one had ever wrestled other than Wanzer, a senior, who had wrestled at South Effingham High School before transferring to Bryan County shortly before his junior year.
“We won our first duals match ever on Dec. 9,” Ledbetter said. “We had two team wins that night and later we had three team wins at home.”
In team duals this season the Redskins are 8-12 and, Ledbetter said, came within two pins of finishing second in the area tournament.
Singleton, a junior wrestling at 220 pounds, is Bryan County’s top performer with a 20-9 record.
“He’s had a phenomenal season,” Ledbetter said. “He’s a really good athlete—he’s a starter in football and was first team defense on the all-region team—and he was the area champion last year.”
“Right before the end of the season last year everything clicked for him,” Ledbetter said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and never takes a minute off. He sets a great example in the room.”
Lewis, a sophomore, has a 10-9 record which Ledbetter said is no indicator of his ability.
“Jett weighs 215 pounds and should be wrestling at 220 except we have Tarrell there,” Ledbetter said. “He wrestles up at 285 which means he’s giving up 50 or pounds per match. He’s an outstanding wrestler.”
Wanzer, a co-captain with Singleton, is a leader in the room and has helped with the younger wrestlers, Ledbetter said. He is 9-9 and Parrish has eight wins. Both have been plagued by injuries: Parrish had a hyperextended knee and Wanzer has been dealing with back issues.
“One of our key guys is Colton Gunter at 126 pounds,” Ledbetter said. “He’s come into his own with five wins in our last eight matches. He’s a junior and this is his first-year wrestling.”
“We’re ecstatic about where we’re at. The kids are buying in. For a second-year program we’re growing and learning. The middle school now has a team. If we can keep them all in the program, we’re going to be fine.”