The Lions are sending area runner-up Joe Simpkins at 182 pounds, along with Avery Ward (120), who finished fourth, and Jarrett Thomas (152), who placed third at last weekend's area tournament, to Ringgold on Saturday with the competition beginning at 9 a.m. Again, it will take a top-four finish to advance to the Macon Centreplex.
"We've dialed back some things so we can focus on some live wrestling, easy flow and drilling, keep our kids healthy and make sure they have good cardio going to get them ready for a successful weekend," Central coach Marcus Marenda said. "We had our alternates practicing with us for a good part of the week and then once we got confirmation that there were going to be no substitutions for the alternates, we released those guys and got a lot more focused on our three qualifiers and they've had a good last three days."
As just a freshman, Marenda doesn't think the magnitude of his area finish or going into sectionals has fully sunk in for Simpkins, but the second-year coach has been impressed as he continues to work hard in the practice room preparing.
Ward and Thomas are seniors and trying to keep their final year of prep wrestling alive.
"Just have to take it one step at a time and do the best I can. I want to be physical and do what I've got to do to make state," Ward said. "That's what I've been working for all year — to make state."
Thomas wants to advance, and he doesn't want to leave much question about it.
"It means a whole lot to keep on coming in here and wrestling every day. I want to make the top four, be in the top two at sectionals, actually. Get back in here, working and getting on the podium this year," Thomas said. "I think it will be tough, but it's nothing I can't overcome if I keep working hard."
With just two areas combining in Class AAA for an eight-man bracket, the first match is the most important match, getting the wrestler into the semifinals. From there, it will just take a win in one of the next two matches to qualify. A win in the semifinals guarantees a top spot, while even with a loss, a win in the consolation bracket would ensure a third or fourth-place finish and a trip to state.
"We want to come out prepared to win that first match. Winning the first match automatically puts you in the semifinals. With the matchups that we have, I think all of those are possible wins for us. Avery has a tough draw being fourth place he'll have a No. 1 seed," Marenda said. "We want to come out strong and make sure we have our best wrestling that round to put us in the semifinals."
Saturday could be feast of famine for the Lions.
Marenda believes his three wrestlers have the ability to make the top four and advance, but he knows there is plenty of tough competition and the wrong mindset, attitude or effort could leave Central shut out of state.
"I feel like we can clear all three. There is a reason you have a sectional to try and ferret out guys who are competitive, but aren't among the best guys in the state. It's going to be a tough tournament, but I think we can clear all three. However, if we don't come out and wrestle our best, we could clear nobody. The matchups are there for us, but we still have to do our part," Marenda said.