Come Thursday morning, five members of the Central High School wrestling team will look to cap their seasons by capturing a piece of state glory.
Finishing in the top eight of their respective weight classes at the Class AAAA West Sectional last Saturday, Zane Simmons (113), C.J. Shadinger (120), Pierce Simmons (126), Sam Conerly (170) and Jason Konoval (220) will all be representing the Maroon and Grey this week at the GHSA Traditional State Wrestling Championships at the Macon Centreplex
"I'm excited for this," Zane Simmons said on Tuesday. "I didn't get to do this last year, but now I'm here. We all put in a lot of hard work and we made it."
All winter long, Central head coach Jereme Fountain has watched these core group of guys step to challenge after challenge and put themselves into the positions that they're currently in. The journey to Macon is by no means an easy one and he knows exactly what his Lions had to go through to make it.
"You have to appreciate how hard it is to get there and in that sense, I do have a lot of respect for these kids and how hard they've had to work to get to this place," Fountain said. "I do want to see them finish well because it seems like you do all of this for a result and you either end up with it or you don't."
Like most other teams getting ready for the biggest tournament of the year, the CHS grapplers are sticking with the script and aren't doing anything drastically different in their preparation this week. The Lion head man wants this to be as normal of a prep period as possible.
"We've done some things differently, but if you get too crazy with your plan, then it has a way of working against you," Fountain said. "I found with us that sometimes the more effort I put into getting kids fired up, the less likely for us to have the result that I intended. The times where we've just warmed up, did our thing and went out and wrestled, we've won big matches. So we're not trying to do anything big or new."
Part of that process is sprucing up some things from last week's sectional at Woodward Academy, where Fountain thought they had an off day on the mat despite qualifying five for state.
"We're just trying to fine-tune some stuff and fix some things that we specifically did wrong last week like finishing shots and using setups quickly," Fountain said. "On top of that, we're just trying to do a good job at the things we've been doing a good job with all season."
Making a return trip to the traditional championships this year are Conerly, Shadinger and Pierce Simmons, while Konoval is back after missing last year due to injury and Zane Simmons is making his Macon debut as an individual.
Having been there before, the junior Conerly fully knows what to expect.
"Last year was my first time, so I was kind of nervous about it. But now I'm used to it and more excited for it," said Conerly.
Fountain added how going to Macon for the state duals should also help alleviate any nerves.
"They've been in the big arena and know what it feels like to be down on the floor," Fountain said. "You kind of take that awe away from the experience and it becomes more about handling business."
The Lions will arrive to Macon on Thursday morning in time for weigh-ins at 10 a.m. Then the fun finally begins with the slate of first-round matches beginning at noon.
There's nothing new for the Central grapplers to learn at this point. It's all about going out there and getting the job done.
"I want to see our kids go get it," Fountain said. "I want to see them place in this tournament and find their little piece of history."
Following a long grind to get here, the Lions are ready to shine on the big stage.
"We just have to take care of business like we always do," Shadinger said. "The hay's in the barn."