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Bobcats make it 6 state titles in a row!

Gilmer High School wrestlers look up to celebrate with family, friends and fans after securing the Class 4A duals state championship last Saturday at the Macon Coliseum. GHS won the title by defeating Northwest Whitfield, 52-13, in the finals, which marked its sixth duals state championship in a row. (Photo by Robbie Bills)
GHS rips through Class 4A wrestling tournament for 6th straight duals state title

by Robbie Bills

The Gilmer Bobcats’ dominance over Class 4A has been solidified.

Georgia’s top dual wrestling teams gathered in Macon last week and there was little they could do to slow Gilmer’s grapplers.

The Bobcats’ four opponents were mere speed bumps in GHS’ path to its sixth consecutive duals state championship, and eighth in school history. In the first round, semifinals and finals, Gilmer secured victories before the opposition scored a single team point.

Following the tournament, GHS coach Sam Snider relished in the Cats’ accomplishment, and had a word of caution for those attempting to predict Gilmer’s future.

“I think this year is going to be thought of as very special,” he said. “Last year, with 12 seniors, no one thought anyone would come close to them. They were so awesome, worked hard and had such a great run. So this year, we lose 12 seniors, eight starters and only return two seniors, and everyone is thinking ‘OK, Gilmer is down.’”

He added, “It’s special to have my son (Josh) here working with me and to step back and say ‘This wasn’t about an individual. It was about a team as a whole and a county that gets behind these guys.’ I believe Gilmer County is still up in north Georgia, and Gilmer wrestling is still around. We’ll continue to be around as long as we keep doing the right things.”

On its way to the finals, Gilmer pounded Eastside (56-15) as Snider earned his 500th win at GHS. In the quarterfinals, Gilmer beat Troup (55-12) before a semifinal victory against Marist (46-18). In the state finals, Gilmer found itself in a  familiar situation when it met fellow Region 7-4A foe Northwest Whitfield. It marked the fifth time in six years GHS had faced a region opponent in the state finals. Gilmer defeated Northwest 46-20 in the region finals a week prior, and widened the margin to 52-13 at state.

“You don’t want to face the same team too many times, because they start to figure you out,” Snider said. “This Northwest team came with everything and we figured them out. We switched some things around to make it even better for us.”

Theme continues in state finals

The finals began at 106 pounds where Domingo Reynoso won in commanding style, 18-5. Trevor Preece (113 pounds) came out on top 6-2. Leading 7-0 as a team, Alberto Perez (120) secured GHS’ first pin with 31 second left in the first period.

At 126 and 132 pounds, Marcelino Lopez and Lucas Patterson  won by major decisions, 18-5 and 9-1, respectively. Bobcat Keegan Sharpe (138) kept the wins coming with a second-period pin as GHS’ lead grew to 27-0.

Following an evenly-matched first period, Will Gudger (145) won convincingly, 17-3. With half of the match’s bouts remaining, Jaime Lopez (152) secured Gilmer’s title with a first-period pin.

With the title in hand, Northwest won its first bout at 160. GHS’ Matthew Waddell won by forfeit at 170. Leading 43-6, Gilmer lost by major decision at 182 and minor decision at 195. Luis Estaban (220) and Levi Seabolt (285) closed out the title with GHS victories. Estaban won 6-2 and Seabolt pinned 39 seconds into the first period.

“It’s a great feeling. It’s rewarding because Gilmer wrestling has continued the tradition with only two senior wrestlers,” Snider said of the championship. “About four weeks ago, I challenged the sophomores and juniors to show me who was going to lead (in their classes). Some have stepped up and really want that role and they’re holding each other accountable in a positive way with hard work.”

Coupled with the traditional (individual-based) tournament, Gilmer has won 14 total state championships.

“We’ve got a  system that you’re not going to find anywhere else aside from Jefferson,” noted assistant Greg Wingo. “It’s hard to model because you don’t get coaches like Walt Monroe and Bo Dorsey (at the middle school level) and the youth coaches to come in and buy into the same system (like we have). If you watch Clear Creek and watch us, you’re going to see a lot of the same things, because we work together.”

Snider believes Gilmer is one of the strongest teams in the state regardless of classification, and pointed to several head-to-head matchups from throughout the season.

“We can’t beat Archer. They’re too good right now,” he said of the Class 6A champions and the No. 5 nationally ranked team.  “We beat the team (Etowah) that got second to Archer. Most of the 6A teams here we’ve wrestled and beaten. The only 5A team we haven’t beaten is (state champion) Camden and we lost to (runner-up) Woodland by one point. We didn’t wrestle (Class 3A champion) Jefferson this year, but we did finish ahead of (Class 2A state champion) Social Circle at a traditional tournament.”

Road to finals paved with blowouts 

GHS began the tournament against Eastside with eight straight wins to lead 40-0. After Jake Parker (195) won by minor decision, four straight pins were reeled off by Estaban, Seabolt, Reynoso and Preece. Marcelino Lopez and Perez won by minor and major decision, respectively, and Ethan Teague (132) pinned to give GHS its 40-point edge.

After losses at 138 and 145, Jordan Caviness (152) won by pin and Enrique Jacinto (160) took his bout by major decision. Dawson Jenkins picked up Gilmer’s final pin at 182 pounds.

In the quarterfinals, GHS pins by Seabolt and Dan Puac (106) were sandwiched between pins by Troup Tigers. With the score tied 12-12, it would be Troup’s final points. The Cats’ eight-bout streak began with a major decisions by Preece and Drew Dyer (128). A technical fall by Patterson was followed by minor decisions by Sharpe and Gudger.

Ahead 36-12, GHS closed out the match with a Caviness major, a Jaime Lopez technical fall, an Avery Sirmans (170) minor, and pins by Waddell and Nick Windsor (195).

Versus Marist, the War Eagles lost the first nine bouts to the Bobcats. Seabolt continued his dominant tournament with a pin to begin proceedings. From there, GHS wins came from Reynoso (major), Preece (pin), Marcelino Lopez (technical fall), Perez (minor), Patterson (major), Sharpe (major), Gudger (major) and Jaime Lopez (major).

On top 40-0, Waddell accepted a forfeit at 170 for GHS’ final win of the match. Snider forfeited at 195 and 220 to close out Gilmer’s 28-point win.

Snider thinks the Bobcats will be a force to be reckoned with next season as they only graduate 2-of-14 starters.

“Our two seniors have been fantastic. They are not extremely vocal, but they have led by example. What we have coming back is a great junior class and great sophomore class, and a freshman class that is hungry. So, it bodes well for the future.”

Gilmer finished the dual portion of is schedule with a 44-7 record. Gilmer will attend a traditional tournament Friday and Saturday at the Burnt Mountain Classic at Pickens High School.
Reaching 500-win milestone at GHS

When Snider started coaching the Bobcats in 1998, he never thought 500 career wins was possible because of the sport’s climate. In those days, teams wrestled roughly between 15 and 25 duals per season, as traditional tournaments were the focus.

Once the Georgia High School Association adopted the dual tournament at the state level in 2003, the schedule transformed.

“Back in 1998 you were only looking at about 20 matches per year, so I thought if I got to 500, it would take longer than 30 years (in education). Then once we started wrestling 35, 40 and 45 matches per year, it (wins) started building up fast. I thought it might happen next year, but last year’s team did so well with so many wins (57) it really pushed us over the hump. We got more wins (44) this year than I expected.”

In his 16 years on the Bobcats’ sideline, Snider said the overall quality of wrestling has improved statewide, and that the best Gilmer wrestlers over the years could still compete at the top.

“To me, the quality has gone up a lot. Instead of having two guys who are awesome, you’re looking at five or six wrestlers deep in each weight class that are pretty good. We wrestle all classifications, so we get to see a lot of wrestlers. I think the top kids we had back then — the Neil Garys, the Noah Harrises, the Steven Elliotts — they could still win today,” he said.

GHS assistant coaches feel Snider’s success stems from the atmosphere he has created and the freedom he gives fellow coaches.

Greg Wingo has coached wrestling in Gilmer in some capacity for 13 of Snider’s 16 years. He believes Snider’s faith in assistant coaches has served the program well.  

“As a coach working with Sam, he lets you coach. I work neutral (position) stuff and at practice he gives me a block of time and says  ‘Go do your stuff,’ and that’s not normal in many cases,” Wingo said.

After a head coaching stint at Fannin County High School, Snider’s son, Josh Snider, joined the GHS coaching staff this season. He has enjoyed his time with the program and the positive learning environment.

“It’s a joy to get to coach with someone who is so encouraging to the kids,” Josh said. “You don’t always see that in coaching. He (Sam) is always giving more positives than negatives and it’s always good to be around that positive atmosphere. He cares about the team and makes sure they’re the first priority.”

Snider’s overall record at GHS is 503-109-2.
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