Callaway wrestlers eye tourney success
HOGANSVILLE – When Callaway High wrestling coach Josh Ghobadpoor evaluates how much progress his team has made during the season, he looks at this way.
If the team he had on the first day of preseason practice could get in a time machine, travel forward a few months and face his team right now, what would happen?
“Over the course of the year, if you look at us from the beginning to now, we’d kick our own butt,” Ghobadpoor said at the close of Wednesday’s practice session. “That’s how I look at it. Are we getting better, are we improving?”
Ghobadpoor, who is in his first season as Callaway’s coach, said every single wrestler on the team, from standout sophomore Justin Kiss who is unbeaten, to the newcomers like senior Brandon Sutton, has improved dramatically.
“Look at their records midway through the season, some guys were 1-10, and now they’re 8-12,” Ghobadpoor said. “They have losing records, but if you know the journey that wrestler has taken, that tells the story a lot of times. We’re really excited.”
Ghobadpoor is hoping the progress the wrestlers have made will pay dividends on Saturday when Callaway heads to Pepperell High School in Rome to participate in the Area 5-AAA traditional-format tournament.
Also on Saturday, LaGrange and Troup will compete in their respective area tournaments.
LaGrange will host the Area 1-AAAAA tournament, while Troup will be at Woodward Academy for the Area 5-AAAA tournament.
At all three area tournaments, the format will be the same, with the top four wrestlers in each weight class advancing to the state sectionals the following week.
Callaway will be one of six teams competing in its area tournament, so finishing among the top four is a realistic goal for many of the wrestlers.
The other participating teams are Rockmart, Pepperell, Central-Carroll, Haralson County and Cedartown.
“Hopefully we’ll be bringing a lot of guys through,” Ghobadpoor said. “That’s the goal. There are a couple of tough teams.”
Callaway’s top wrestlers is Kiss, who is having a phenomenal season.
Kiss, who was a state placer as a freshman, is 23-0 this season, and he has won championships at the Chattahoochee River Wrestling Association tournament, the Hardaway Invitational, and the Gary Silva Invitational.
“Our goal for him, from this summer on, is a state championship,” Ghobadpoor said. “He has had a lot of maturing over the course of the year. He’s done a phenomenal job rising to that challenge. And a lot of our other guys have, too.”
One of Callaway’s seniors wrestlers is Gabriel Liranzo, and he is 13-3 this season.
“He’s just doing an excellent job,” Ghobadpoor said.
Another senior is Andrew Thomas, who was a state qualifier last season and has enjoyed a fine season that included an individual championship at the Silva Invitational.
Senior Matthew Wingate also won a title at the Silva Invitational, and he has been one of Callaway’s top wrestlers throughout the season.
Khaliq Swift, another state qualifier from a year ago, has also fared well for the Cavaliers this season, and he finished third at the Silva tournament, and Brandon Belton placed in the CRWA tournament.
Ghobadpoor said every thing the team has been doing throughout the season has been in preparation for these critical matches at the area and state tournaments.
“That’s been the goal the whole time is to be ready,” he said. “We’re to the point where everything matters. We’re at area, and then (state) sectionals, and then state finals. We’re in the postseason, and now we have to get it done. No excuses. Just make it happen.”
Ghobadpoor said the routine on Saturday will be the same as it has been throughout the season.
“We try to be very methodical about what we do, and how we do it,” he said. “There is a warmup we do before matches, and we’ve done it that way the whole year. Everything is structured. That way when we get to area, we know what to expect, how to handle ourselves, and how to conduct ourselves.”
Ghobadpoor said having the wrestlers become fully invested in what he has been trying to teach them has been a blessing.
“I feel like the buys bought into it early on,” he said. “The’ve really taken everything and run with it.”
Ghobadpoor said the commitment level among the wrestlers has been “100 percent, and that’s all you can ask.”
Troup will be on the mat for the first time since its stirring victory over LaGrange in the county championship last week.
Troup was supposed to compete in the Last Man Standing tournament at Luella High School last weekend, but that tournament was canceled because of the winter storm.
LaGrange tuned up for its area tournament by beating Haralson County and Heard County on senior night on Monday.
OF NOTE: For more on the Troup and LaGrange teams as they prepare for area, see Friday’s sports section.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports