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Nine Tigers headed to state finals

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

LAGRANGE – He has been an unstoppable force this season.

Troup’s Chase Seals has enjoyed a dominant season on the wrestling mat, overpowering his opponents on the way to a 59-2 record while winning every tournament he has participated in.

Now, Seals will attempt to finish off his remarkable season by winning a state championship.

Seals is one of nine Troup wrestlers who will participate in the Class AAAA state finals that will be held in Macon today through Saturday.

There are 16 wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes, and the top six finishers will place and earn medals.

A year ago, Seals capped his sophomore season by finishing third at the state tournament.

As this year’s state finals gets under way, Seals will be one of the favorites to be the last man standing at 126 pounds.

“I feel like I’ve got just as good a chance as anybody else,” Seals said at the close of practice on Wednesday.

Seals qualified for the state finals by finishing first in the state sectional that was held at Woodward Academy, and the week before that he won the Area 5-AAAA tournament.

Troup has participated in five traditional-format tournaments this season, and Seals has won them all.

“It’s really just whenever the pressure’s on that I wrestle my best I feel like,” Seals said.

Joining Seals in Macon will be Dre Flagg, Teddy Harris, Byron Butts, Scott Hicks, Colby Harry, Brantly Robinson, Quenton Kersey and Pearson Strickland.

To qualify for the state finals, a wrestler had to finish eighth or higher in his weight class at the state sectional.

Eight Troup wrestlers accomplished that, while Flagg finished ninth at 160 pounds.

When one of the eight top wrestlers at 160 pounds had to drop off, that spot went to Flagg.

Once Flagg was eliminated from the possibility of finishing eighth or higher at the sectional, his focus turned to making sure he placed ninth, which would make him the first alternate.

“Coach said keep your head up, and stick these last two guys you’ve got to wrestle, and you’ll never know what’ll happen,” Flagg said. “Next thing I know, a guy gets hurt, and I’m in.”

Flagg, who has a 37-21 record this season, said Wednesday’s practice session was an emotional one for him, since it was his final time in the wrestling room as a member of the team.

“All the sudden, it’s the last practice,” Flagg said. “And you’re a senior, so it kind of hurts on the inside knowing it’s your last practice, it’s the last time you’ll be with your friends.”

Flagg’s time as a Troup wrestler isn’t done, though, and he said his goal is to “go out with a bang.”

Another senior whose time as a Troup wrestlers is winding down is Teddy Harris, who finished seventh at 145 pounds at the state sectional.

Harris (45-17) beat Will Gaither of Eastside in the seventh-place match.

“I’m really excited,” Harris said. “These are my last matches I’m going to be wrestling. I’m glad to be wrestling with this team.”

Like Flagg, Harris was participating in his final practice as a Troup wrestler on Wednesday.

“It was very mind-blowing,” Harris said. “I’ve been here for four years, and now this is your last practice.”

Byron Butts, who has had a phenomenal junior season, finished second in the state sectional at 182 pounds, with his only loss coming to Matthew Waddell of Gilmer County, who is unbeaten.

Butts, who has won three individual championships including the Area 5-AAAA tournament, carries a 57-5 record into the state finals.

This is the first time during his high-school career that Butts has made it this far.

“I didn’t make it my first two years,” Butts said. “For this being my first year making it and going in as a third seed, it’s crazy. It’s unreal. All of this, all of the work, the blood, sweat and tears, and pain, it’s paid off. I’m transitioning into the kind of wrestler that I needed to be.”

Butts said being able to wrestle alongside teammates that he has grown so close to has made this season even more meaningful.

“Everybody in here, they’re my brothers,” Butts said. “We work out with each other, we hang out with each other every day. We love each other, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so successful.”

Another Troup junior who has had a big season is Scott Hicks, who finished fourth at 152 pounds at the state sectional and will take a 50-10 record into the state finals.

Hicks has won multiple tournament titles this season, and he won the Area 5-AAAA championship in his weight class.

Finishing fifth at the state sectional was Colby Harry (44-16), who beat Kemeul Hood of Carver to earn that spot.

Harry, like six of his teammates, won an area championship to qualify for the state sectional.

Junior Brantly Robinson (41-15) is headed to the state finals as well after beating Javier Jacinto of Gilmer County to finish seventh at 126 pounds.

Pearson Strickland (37-13), who won the area championship at 106 pounds, finished seventh in that weight class at the state sectional after beating LaGrange’s Lane Oliver.

Another seventh-place finisher for Troup was Quenton Kersey (195 pounds), who beat LaGrange’s Jordan Ragan in his final match.

Kersey, who won the area championship, has a 50-9 record.

As a team, Troup has had a monster season, winning seven tournament championships while placing fourth at the Class AAAA state duals.

Head coach Craig Garner said the close-knit nature of the team members has helped fuel that success.

“It’s a tight-knit group,” Garner said. “They hang out with one another, they truly love one another and support one another. It’s truly a band of brothers.”