The moment Tony Armas and his Bremen High School wrestlers left the Macon Centreplex last year with state champion hardware in hand, the preparation for this year's traditional tournament was already underway.
For six Blue Devil grapplers, that preparation will be put to the test at 10 a.m. this morning when they open the Class AAA bracket of the GHSA Traditional Wrestling State Championships in Macon.
Representing BHS at this year's tournament will be A.J. Brock (138), Kobe Cook (160), Noah Liles (170), Jacob Miles (195), Jacob Stephens (220) and Paul Robinson (hvy.), with Cook, Liles and Robinson all entering as one seeds after winning their respective sectional titles at home last Saturday.
The weekend will be particularly an emotional one for the senior and two-time heavyweight champion Robinson, who will be stepping onto the mats in Macon one final time. He's used this entire week to enjoy his last go-around with his teammates while locking in to make yet another run at state dominance.
"I've been pushing myself as hard as possible like everybody else has," Robinson said. It's not so much as thinking about the target on my back as much as it is enjoying the last few days we've had here and the last few days we have together. We're looking forward to having fun this weekend and seeing if we can come back with hardware."
Well-versed in how things pan out at these state tournaments, Armas spent the week trying to get his guys to simulate the entire experience before they departed south for Macon on Thursday.
"We've just tried to mimic the warmup, getting into the match, the cool down, all those sort of things," Armas said. "We had some guys that didn't have a good tournament last year, so we're hoping to change that this year and put them in the right mindset to perform well."
One Blue Devil who's gotten the mental preparation aspect of it down to a science is the senior Liles, who broke through for his first individual title a year ago. The key for him has has been to visualize his every move at state well before he even enters the building.
"Coach Armas says all the time that mentally you've had to wrestle that state finals match thousands of times," Liles said. "Going back to my freshman year and sophomore years, I had never really wrestled the state finals in my head before and kind of fell through. Last year, I kind of planned out the whole year, knew what that state finals match would look like, and ended up dominating the whole season."
The first round will pan out with Brock taking on North Hall's Cody Smith, Cook facing Shandon Henley from Cook, Liles clashing with Savannah Arts' Chase Grover, Miles against North Hall's Logan Hawthorne, Stephens locking horns with Lumpkin County's Aaron Hopkins and Robinson against Island's Kyshon Williams.
"We're hoping to be wrestling late on Saturday," Armas said. "We have some guys who may not be the favorite, by any means, but wouldn't take much of an upset to be in the finals. I feel like we have a good chance at getting a lot of those guys in there."