East Paulding’s Raiders have scaled the heights before, winning a region wrestling title as recently as last year. During his team’s 2-2 journey Friday and Saturday through the Region 5-AAAA Dual Tournament at Pope High, East Paulding coach Gerry Braun thinks his young wrestlers got a lesson on what it will take to get back to the top.
The Raiders outclassed Chapel Hill and Douglas County in Friday’s first two rounds before running into a primed-and-ready Pope team Saturday morning and suffering a 55-17 loss. The Greyhounds, who won the tournament title Saturday afternoon, provided an object lesson for Braun’s squad.
“That 2-2 is not a bad record, but it’s not what we want,” said Braun. “It’s a great learning experience. A big tournament with tough, good wrestling teams. With the youth that we have – we do have four senior starters, but after that we’re just a bunch of freshmen.”
Following the loss to Pope, East Paulding went into the consolation bracket, where it was defeated 59-21 Saturday afternoon by eventual third-place finisher Kell.
“We had to wrestle that last match without three of our better kids,” Braun lamented. “Our 103 was sick, and our 112 was hurt against Pope, and our 215 couldn’t go, and those are three of our better wrestlers who score big points for us. If we’re 100 percent right there, I like to think the match goes a little differently, and we have a chance to put ourselves in the third-place match, but we just had to work with what we had.”
Seniors Demetre Liguori (189-pound class) and Eric Badertscher (285) continued to lead the way for East Paulding. Both went 4-0 in the tournament and won by pin against Pope in a match where points were hard to come by.
By the time traditional wrestling competition starts later this season, Braun hopes to have back injured 112-pounder J.T. Mangin, a two-time state qualifier.
“We didn’t want to go from region champs to irrelevant the next year,” the Raiders coach said. “That’s one reason we wrestled as well as we did this weekend; the team has a lot of pride in the program and how much we’ve worked over the years. No matter whether we’re young or not, we still want to be in the mix and be competitive.”
[Editor's note:] For more photos from Saturday, take a look at the 5-AAAA Region Duals championship photo gallery.