Troup excels at state meet
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
MACON – When Craig Garner returned as Troup’s wrestling coach before the 2014-2015 season, he had a vision of what the once-proud program could be.
Under the guidance of coach Dariel Daniel, Troup’s wrestling program was one of the best in the state, and there are all sorts of state-championship banners that bear witness to that.
Following Daniel’s departure as head coach in the early 2000s, the program was unable to maintain that lofty status, and it didn’t help that there was a revolving door of coaches.
That desire to see Troup’s wrestling program regain its status as one of the state’s best prompted Garner, who was a standout wrestler under Daniel, to take over as head coach four years ago.
With the Tigers coming off a phenomenal season that ended with a strong showing at the state finals on Saturday, it’s safe to say Garner’s vision has been realized.
Troup, which finished fourth in the state duals in January, secured a third-place finish in the state finals in Macon.
Troup had seven state placers, and that included two wrestlers in Chase Seals and Byron Butts who made it to the championship match in their respective weight divisions.
Also for Troup, Scott Hicks and Trevor Upchurch finished third, Darious Hanson was fourth, Pearson Strickland placed fifth, and Colby Harry was sixth.
It was Troup’s best finish at state since it was winning championships by the truck-load under Daniel.
“We’re super proud of the way they’ve wrestled, and the way they’ve worked over the last four years,” Garner said. “It’s a process. You’re constantly resetting your goals. I’m proud to say, our goal is to win a state title. And even though we’re proud of our accomplishments, we’re still disheartened, a little disappointed that we didn’t reach our ultimate goal. But these guys have nothing to hang their heads about. They’ve done a great job, and we’ve steadily improved over the last four years. These seniors, they’re leaving a legacy behind. They’re the key to getting our program back on the map.”
Leading the way are six gifted seniors who have been together since they were freshmen.
Included in that group is Seals, who found himself in the championship match for the second straight season.
Seals lost to Ridgeland’s Jacob Mariakis in the title match to finish second once again, but he put together an extraordinary prep career.
Seals is a three-time state placer, and he won four consecutive area championships.
“Chase has kind of been the catalyst of our program and has led us every step of the way,” Garner said. “He was one match away from placing his freshman year. He’s a four-time area champion, three-time state placer. That’s the kind of kid you want to build your program around.”
Seals found himself trailing early after he was taken down by Mariakis, and while he recovered to make it a competitive match, he was behind the whole way on the way to a 14-6 loss.
“He put me on my back in the first 30 seconds, and I tried to make a comeback,” Seals said.
While disappointed to finish second once again, Seals is proud of that he and the other seniors helped revive the program.
“It means everything,” Seals said. “It means a lot to me.”
Another one of Troup’s seniors is Butts, and he made the run to the championship match at 195 pounds.
Butts was locked up with Malcolm Wiley of Woodward Academy in the final match, and he fell short 13-3.
Still, it was a thrilling weekend for Butts, who made tremendous strides during his time at Troup.
“It was fun. I enjoyed being able to make my way where I haven’t been before,” Butts said. “My first two years I didn’t make it to state, and I’ve made tremendous strides these last two years. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud to help Troup be what it used to be.”
Butts has beaten Wiley before, and he felt he had a chance to win on Saturday, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I’m really proud,” Butts said. “Right now it hurts, but I know I’ll be able to look back on today and be proud of what we did.”
Two of Troup’s other seniors, Hicks and Upchurch, fought back from early losses in the finals to finish third.
Hicks, wrestling at 152 pounds, lost his second match, but he won his final four matches to finish third.
In the third-place match, Hicks was matched up with the man who he’d lost to earlier, Blake Beasley of West Laurens.
In the rematch, it was all Hicks, who pinned Beasley to finish third at state for the second straight season.
“I went into that third-place match against the guy that put me out in the beginning,” Hicks said. “So it was kind of a grudge match. I had a chip on my shoulder and I was ready to wrestle. It came down to who wanted it more, and I wanted it a lot more than he did.”
Like Hicks, Upchurch lost his second match, but he went 4-0 after that to finish third at 126 pounds.
In the third-place match, Upchurch avenged an earlier loss ty outlasting Gilmer County’s Tristain Kendall 2-1.
“(Garner) always told us, no matter what, you want to go out a winner,” Upchurch said. “You always want to win your last match. So that’s what kind of motivated me.”
Upchurch placed as a sophomore, but he was unable to wrestle at state last season while recovering from a shoulder injury.
Despite that, Upchurch will take nothing but positive memories from his time at Troup.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Upchurch said. “I’m glad to call them my brothers. I think it’s pretty cool how we turned the program around, especially since our class started it out.”
Garner felt the effort of Upchurch and Hicks helped Troup secure the third-place team finish.
“If it wasn’t for those guys, we could have very easily dropped to fourth, or even fifth,” Garner said. “So that’s the character of the kids, the character of the program. Those guys had the ultimate goal of winning a state title. You lose, but yet they persevered and overcame adversity, and they come back and place third to help your team.”
Troup’s other state placers are underclassmen.
Including in that group is Hanson, who reached the semifinals at 120 pounds before falling to Jared Blackburn of Jefferson.
Hanson rebounded to win his next match before losing to John Jones of Northside-Columbus to finish fourth.
Strickland overcame a loss in his second match to finish fifth at 113 pounds.
In his final match, Strickland pinned Zach Meadows of Pickens County to secure the fifth spot.
Harry, after dropping his first match at 285 pounds, who three in a row to guarantee himself a spot on the podium, and he finished sixth.
Robinson and Kersey, two of Troup’s seniors, each won matches but didn’t place.
Robinson, a state placer as a junior, won a match at 132 pounds, and Kersey went 2-2 at 170 pounds.
Michael Irvin won a match at 220 pounds, and Cade Garner participated in the finals at 138 pounds.
Hanson, Strickland, Harry, Irvin and Garner will be among the wrestlers who’ll lead the way next season.
“We’ve got three returning state placers, so it’s not like the cupboard’s going to be bare,” Garner said. “We feel like we have some guys who were great workout partners to help these guys become as successful as they were.”
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