Soddy Daisy, Cleveland Set For State Wrestling Battle

Three-Day Bash Concludes Saturday At Williamson Co. Ag Expo Center

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - by John Hunt

It could be an interesting next three days at the spacious Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center in Franklin.

It's the annual traditional state wrestling tournament where 32 young men in each of 14 weight classes gather for the final TSSAA tournament of the season.

All have goals of winning.  Most have worked extremely hard trudging down the path that leads here and some will experience better luck than others.  But as the old saying about luck goes, that's where preparation meets opportunity.

Unfortunately, only 14 will walk away Saturday night with smiles on their faces and the right to say, "I am a state champion wrestler in Tennessee."

The top four finishers in each weight class from eight different regions across the state are the ones who have earned the right to be there this weekend.

The Cleveland Blue Raiders have the unique distinction of being the only team to have advanced all 14 wrestlers.

Collierville and Wilson Central both advanced 11 while defending champion Soddy Daisy will be bringing 10.  Blackman and Ravenwood also have 10 while Hixson and Walker Valley will both have nine individuals.

Cleveland has three returning state champions in their group, including Chris DeBien, Austin Stevison and Ethan West.  Aaron Lopez is another Blue Raider who won at 140 in 2011, but did not compete last year.

Austin Oliver is a three-time medalist while Haden Hamilton was fourth at 132 a year ago.

If you want to look at the facts as presented on paper, then Cleveland would get the early nod as the team to beat this weekend, but we all know how strange things can happen and how unforseen circumstances can totally change everything in the blink of an eye

After all, Goliath was a heavy favorite when he squared off against David.

But this is one of the most fun weekends for all of prep wrestling.  Most of the favorites will do as expected and win while there are always a few "shockers" where guys come from nowhere to have the greatest weekend of their lives.

Soddy Daisy coach Jim Higgins and his group of Trojans aren't willing to concede anything to anyone just yet.  The Trojans experienced some adversity at the state duals when three starters got booted before the first match, but they came back strong to win the Region 4 tournament for the fourth straight year last Saturday.

Don't count out the guys in blue and gold.  They may be moving slowly like a wounded animal, but they still have a lot of firepower and the word from this corner is that they'll be right in the thick of the team race come Saturday night.

"We all seem to be healthy.  Our spirit is good.  We're ready to rock and roll," said Higgins on Wednesday afternoon.

"All has gone well this week as we've had some good workouts.  The hay's in the barn and it's time to compete.  Our technique is sound and they're in shape.  We have a nice level of confidence, but we just have to wrestle one match at a time and give our best effort.

"We only have 10 guys going, but I'd like to think we can make things interesting.  Cleveland is the early favorite as they've wrestled well all year, but we still feel like we have something to prove.  My guys have been through some tough experiences this year, but they still have a shot.

"You just never, never know what can happen in a tournament like this.  That's what makes it so much fun.  There is always someone who wins that you don't expect and there are those who will lose that you don't expect, but it's all about earning people's respect. 

"It should be interesting to see how it all turns out," Higgins said.

Cleveland had a near-perfect match two weeks ago when they whipped Wilson Central by a lopsided 78-4 final at the state duals.  The Blue Raiders continued that high level of performance when they ran away with the Region 3 title as they claimed nine of the 14 individual titles.

Can they continue that trend one more weekend?  Will each of those 14 young men who has really turned in on in recent weeks be able to do the same this weekend too?

Cleveland coach Jake Yost feels confident that the answer to those three questions is a resounding yes.  He's quick to admit that his team is peaking at the perfect time.

"We feel good about where we are right now.  We've put ourselves in a pretty good situation, but we still have to wrestle.  All 14 of our guys gave a maximum effort and that helped our draws.  Hopefully, we can feed off the momentum we've created these last two weekends," Yost said shortly before his team left Cleveland Wednesday afternoon.

"It's almost been surreal these last two weeks, but the guys are really buying into what we're asking and they're getting good results.  All we have to do is go out and compete as hard as we can.  We aren't concerned about what the score is.

"Some of our draws are good while others are okay.  I don't think we had any really bad ones, but it's been a really good year for our team.  Winning a state championship is our goal this weekend.

"If our effort is good, we'll be happy with whatever place we finish, but we're not going to Franklin with the intention of finishing second," Yost added.

Cleveland's 14 include Tristan Blansit, DeBien, Stevison, Oliver, Hamilton, Ezra Taylor, Joel Simpkins, Josh Hamilton, Lopez, Sean Von Potts, West, Oleg Stukanov, John Gaither and Koran Kennedy.

Soddy Daisy's 10 include Jacob McClure, Austin Houser, Jacob Stevens, Tucker Russo, Conner Stiles, Austin Williamson, Gage Richmond, Garrett Alexander, Blaike Henry and Luke Reno.

Stevens is a two-time defending state champ and is seeded first at 120.

It all begins Thursday afternoon with the first two championship rounds and two rounds of consolations.  The quarterfinals will be first thing Friday with the ever-exciting championship semis on Friday night at 7.

The Parade of Champions and the championship finals will wrap things up about dinner time on Saturday.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)



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