Ramon Tillery found out just how good his McNair wrestling team is Jan. 28 at the DeKalb County wrestling championships.
The Mustangs won their first county wrestling title over traditional powers Marist and Southwest DeKalb, which combined to win five county titles over the previous eight years.
McNair won two weight classes—Khalil Williams at 120 and D.J. Jackson at 220—and had seven wrestlers place among the top four. Williams and Jackson each improved their season records to 43-1.
“We were hoping to win it, but we had a lot of kids come through that weren’t expected to do so well,” Tillery said. “That helped the team out. We were down by 15 points going into the last round and the kids really stepped it up.”
McNair outpointed runner-up Marist 200.5-193, while Southwest placed third with 181 points. Williams defeated Marist’s Jack Lange in the 120-pound finals. Marist’s Kenneth Brinson won the 195-pound class and the War Eagles had three runners-up and seven in the top four.
Southwest had three individual champions—Anthony Kaigler, 126; Corey Strickland, 145; and Gabriel Echols, 285. St. Pius and Lithonia also had two individual titlists. Brian Peragine (113) and Robert Martin (138) won for the Golden Lions while Anthony Smith (152) and Jaquille Fitzpatrick (171) won for the Bulldogs.
The other weight class champions were Romello Swain, Tucker, 106; Gashaw Belete, Clarkston, 132; Darion Perry, Stephenson, 160; and James Philpot, Redan, 182.
McNair’s team victory has changed Tillery’s outlook on the rest of the season.
“We knew we had a good team, but we didn’t know how good,” Tillery said. “Now we have high expectation and I feel like it’s almost a must to win the region. Now I feel like it’s something we have to do.”
McNair wrestles in the 5-AAA tournament Feb. 4 at Woodward Academy. The War Eagles beat the Mustangs by three points earlier in the season.
“We’re looking to get revenge in the region tournament,” Tillery said.
But there’s more to the meet than just beating Woodward. Tillery, in his first season as head coach at McNair, said he hopes to qualify as many as 10 wrestlers for state after taking seven last year.
We’re trying to turn the program around,” Tillery said. “[At state] it’s a different story; it gets real tough up there. Maybe we can get two state champions, but if we can get nine or 10 wrestlers qualified maybe we can make a run for it.”