The Williamson Co. Ag Expo is deceptively quiet today, but it will be a whirlwind of activity on Friday afternoon with the 2013 TSSAA State Duals wrestling tournament begins.
The Ag Expo is a massive facility, designed for rodeos, horse shows and cattle autions. There are two weekends every February when the dirt floor is smoothed as much as possible, covered with an all-weather cloth and then turned into a haven for high school wrestlers with mats strategically placed from one end to the other.
Action begins with the first match at 4:30 p.m. Chattanooga time as 16 teams in AAA, eight teams in A-AA and eight teams in Division II begin their quest for a state championship, which will culminate this event on Saturday night.
Chattanooga-area teams have been the dominant force in Tennessee for a long time.
Soddy Daisy is the defending AAA Duals champ while Cleveland was the runner-up in 2012. Defending A-AA champ Central did not qualify this year, but Hixson and East Ridge are two local teams who are hungry for success and have the ingredients for a championship run.
Cleveland faces Cordova in Friday's first match while Soddy Daisy will test Science Hill in the second round, which is supposed to start about 6:30 p.m.
East Ridge meets Sycamore while Hixson will tangle with Greeneville in the A-AA opening round matches, which also are set for 6:30.
The Cleveland-Cordova winner advances to the quarterfinal round where they will face the Clarksville-Dobyns-Bennett winner at 8:30. The Soddy Daisy-Science Hill winner will face the victor of Collierville and Maryville.
Should East Ridge and Hixson both win their opening matches, they would face each other in a semifinal match at 8:30.
Soddy Daisy beat Cleveland in the finals last year and the Trojans beat the Blue Raiders in a dual meet on Dec. 13. Unless something really crazy happens, chances are good that these two teams will see each other on Saturday night.
"I'm excited about the whole weekend," said Soddy Daisy first-year head coach Jim Higgins on Wednesday afternoon.
"We seem to be good to go and I think we're ready. My guys are hungry to win it again. They want it and they've put in a whole lot of hard work to get here. We just have to show up with a lot of guts and determination. We have a good group of older guys who've been here before and know what it takes, but every member of the team has to step up for us to win.
"It's time to take care of business. We don't look past anyone as we take every team seriously. Winning the state duals is our first team goal, so we can't afford to look ahead. We're capable of winning it all again and I feel good going in. I like our chances.
"We beat Cleveland in the finals last year and we beat them in our dual meet, but there are a lot of people who think that Cleveland is favored. We love proving those people wrong. We lost some key people from last year, but I think we're as good as we were then. It's going to be an interesting weekend," Higgins added.
While Higgins was named to take the place of legendary coach Steve Henry, Cleveland also got a new head coach named Jake Yost, who wrestled at Soddy Daisy and was a two-time state champ before graduating in 2002. Yost was really excited about the tournament and the bracket.
"We beat them pretty good at the start of January at the Soddy Daisy tournament, so I'm glad we're wrestling them," Yost said when asked about opening opponent Cordova.
"They have some good kids, but they also have some holes in their lineup. I feel good because most of the better teams are on the other side of the bracket. We've beaten most of the teams on our side, but our goal is to just keep the train on the track.
"On paper, we have a very good team, but the key is how we finish. My guys are chomping at the bit and ready to go. I feel like we're well-prepared and we're peaking at the right time," Yost added.
The Hixson Wildcats won A-AA titles in 2009 and 2010 before finishing third the last two years. The Wildcats lost a 33-32 heartbreaker to Pigeon Forge a year ago in a match that coach Garrick Hall has kept as a constant reminder for his team.
"It's about as good as you'll get," he began when asked his opinion of the A-AA bracket.
"I just don't think the TSSAA wants to see two Chattanooga teams in the finals. With this year's bracket, that won't happen. We have to take care of Greeneville first. We have to remember they've earned the right to be there just like us.
"We have to be prepared to give our best effort in every match. We're dealing with teenagers, so you never know how they'll react. I'm glad we've gotten past the flu and I feel confident that we're properly trained. Once we get there, make weight and get checked in, I'll be able to relax a little bit.
"The hay is in the barn as far as preparation is concerned. I like our chances anytime we step on the mat. If we can just wrestle up to our potential, I'll be a happy fellow, no matter what happens," Hall nodded.
It's been 20 years since East Ridge has been to the state duals. Coach Brad Laxton has done an exceptional job of bringing back a fighting spirit that had been a Pioneer trademark for so many years.
"We haven't seen Sycamore and don't know much about them, but if we just do what we're supposed to do, we should have some success this weekend," Laxton responded.
"Pigeon Forge is a clear number one. Right now, we're just trying to stay healthy and injury-free. We're enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity. We've had a really good season so far, but these guys are not satisfied just yet.
"We just need to stay within ourselves and not look past anyone. If we get after it like we're capable, we should be okay. These guys have never been in a setting like this and I'm not sure how they'll react. We'll do a walk-through when we get there on Thursday to get our bearings.
"We just have to stay focused on our job and not worry about external forces. I think we're ready," Laxton concluded.
While Friday's first match is set to begin at 4:30 EST, Saturday night's championship finals are set to start at 8.
Baylor and McCallie are Chattanooga's two entries in the D-II tournament.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)