CONYERS -- Rockdale wrestler Alonzo Allen is the living embodiment of the phrase "the third time is the charm."
As a freshman in the 2010 season, Allen reached the 106-pound finals of the Class AAAAA state wrestling tournament, but lost in the championship match by a point. In his sophomore campaign, Allen again advanced to the 106 finals and again came up one point short.
But in mid-February, Allen's third visit to the finals (although this year it was in the new Class AAAAAA) proved to be the ticket as he defeated Roswell's Brenna Ninesling 6-2 at the Macon Coliseum to claim the 106 crown.
"It was a pleasure to watch," Rockdale coach Craig Hargrove said. "Alonzo had a lot of family there -- 15 or 20 people -- and everybody was very excited for him. I was also happy for him because I know how hard he worked. I knew he could do it if he put it all together. It was fun to see."
"It felt awesome," said Allen, one of five Bulldogs who qualified for state. "I'd been waiting on it for a long time and I'm glad I won it. I had been close two times before, so I knew I'd get it -- I was just waiting on the moment and then the moment came."
Allen, who as a sophomore rode an undefeated record leading into the championship match, went 38-3 as a junior, but his losses came in higher weight divisions (two at 113 and one at 120). Hargrove said he had Allen compete in heavier divisions to help prepare him for the postseason.
"This year, we had to get creative to find tougher matches for Alonzo," said Hargrove, who has now coached four state champions in his eight years at Rockdale. "We had him wrestle at 113 a good bit and he even went at 120, but by February, he was at 106. I really think him wrestling in a higher weight class was a real key to his success, because he really didn't have to worry too much about making weight until February."
"I had a couple of losses at 113, but I brushed it off because my goal wasn't necessarily to go undefeated -- it was to win a state championship. Wrestling up was a factor for me -- it improved me mentally and physically ... I knew it wasn't going to be easy, so I had to focus on doing what I could to get to state and to win it."
In the opening round at state, Allen recorded a pin at the 20-second mark of the first period. He earned a major decision in the second round and an 11-6 victory in the semifinals. Allen said the semis and finals represented his most memorable matches of the weekend.
"Those two were tough," he said. "I had wrestled the same kid (Ninesling) at the state duals (in January) and he took me into overtime. I did much better against him the second time. The first time we wrestled, he got me in a headlock and that's how he got all his points. This time, I knew what I wanted to do and I dictated the match."
Hargrove, who wrestled at Newton High in the mid-'90s, said coaching a state champion is something that never gets old. He also coached Luis Ponce (125) in 2009, heavyweight Grady Jarrett (now a defensive tackle at Clemson) in 2011 and Jose Robledo (145) in 2012.
"It's been great to watch Alonzo and the other state champions I've coached fulfill their dreams," he said. "It is the highlight match in high school wrestling."
"Coach Hargrove has been there with me the whole way, since freshman year," Allen said. "Without him pushing, I don't think I would have been able to get this far. He's had my back since my freshman year."
Allen -- who is a high jumper and also runs sprints and relays for the Bulldogs track team -- will enter his senior season as the defending state champion, and he acknowledges he'll have a target on his back every time he steps onto the mat. He thinks a permanent move to 113 should be helpful in his development.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I know it's going to be a tough season," he said. "I'm thinking about (wrestling at) 113 or even 120 -- it depends on how much I weigh when the season starts. I just know it's not going to be easy."
"I'm sure he'll be more than ready, given his character and his work ethic," Hargrove said of Allen. "He'll be very motivated. He knows that he's earned that state title and it can never be taken away from him, but at the same time, next year is a new season. There will be an opportunity to win another championship and you've got to be prepared to put in the same amount of work, if not more, to do that."