The Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center is all quiet right now, but it will be the headquarters for plenty of excitement come mid-afternoon on Friday when the annual State Duals wrestling tournament begins a two-day stay.
A total of 32 teams will be in action on Friday in hopes of reaching the championship match on Saturday night, including 16 AAA teams and eight in both A-AA and Division II.
Every team in the state has the State Duals as a primary goal, but here we are at the end of January and those 32 teams are the only ones with a shot at winning.
All three defending champs are in the field, including Cleveland in AAA, Greeneville in A-AA and Christian Brothers in D-II.
Action begins at 3:30 (CST) with the eight first-round matches for the AAA teams while those quarterfinals are set for 7:30. The A-AA teams swing into action at 5:30 with semifinal matches also set for 7:30. The Division-II teams have the same format at A-AA with the championship semis at 7:30.
Cleveland and Soddy Daisy are the two AAA teams from the Chattanooga area while Hixson and Central are the A-AA representatives. As always, Baylor and McCallie are the two hopes in D-II.
The Blue Raiders finished as the runner-up in 2009, 2010 and 2012 before kicking the door down last year with a record-setting 78-4 romp over Wilson Central in the AAA championship match.
Coach Jake Yost will be the first to tell you that there have been plenty of times in recent weeks when his kids were a little rusty of maybe didn't look very good, but that's by design as they're firing on all cylinders at the end when all the chips are on the line.
The Blue Raiders enter Friday's round with a record of 23-3 and will face the Beech Buccaneers in the first round. The winner of this match will face the winner of Knox Halls and Bartlett at 7:30.
Yost has been involved at this level both as a participant and now as a coach. He's raring to go and he hopes that his kids are ready as well.
"We better be ready, but I think we're good to go," Yost said late Wednesday afternoon.
"We just want to keep getting better, but we're in good shape physically and everyone is healthy. That's a real blessing this time of year. There's only one team on our side of the bracket that we've seen and that's kind of nerve-racking, but I'm not worried about those unknown teams.
"I love this time of year when you get to see kids earn what they've been working all year for. And the fact that they get to do it as a team is really cool, but we believe in our process and we feel like we do things the right way. That's one reason we've been successful, but I hope we're the team to beat.
"I think that we're hard to beat when we're doing what we should be doing and I feel good about where we are right now. The key is for each young man to do the best they can in every match. It should be a great tournament and we're looking forward to it," Yost added.
The Soddy Daisy Trojans finished third a year ago after winning in 2012 and finishing as the runner-up in 2011. Last year's duals were a tough time for first-year coach Jim Higgins as he had to dismiss three starters for breaking team rules the day before the tournament began.
Higgins is sure that those problems have been solved and that his team will have a different outlook in 2014. They enter with a 19-4 record.
The Trojans open with the Heritage Generals with the winner of that match facing the Collierville-Brentwood winner in the quarterfinals.
"It's been a little different this week with all of the bad weather and school being out. We've only had one practice, but I feel like we'll benefit from the rest," Higgins said Wednesday evening.
"We're healthy and I'm pretty sure we're excited. I feel like this team has been tested this year, but I know that Heritage has some tough kids. I just want my guys to enjoy the experience and stay the course. We've got to believe in ourselves and our ability and I think we do," Higgins continued.
Bad things turned worse last year when the Trojans suffered a 39-31 loss to Wilson Central in the semifinals. Should Soddy Daisy and the Wildcats both win twice on Friday, they'd get a chance for a rematch on Saturday at 1 in the semis.
"We haven't seen them this year, but they say they're better than last year. We were a little shellshocked last year, but I'm sure that we're looking for a rematch. But we just need to take it one match at a time.
"This is a real test for these kids, but we all know that in the sport of wrestling, when the whistle blows, it's one man against the other and there's no place to hide," HIggins said.
Hixson and Central have experienced life at the top in A-AA with Central winning titles in 2011 and 2012 while Hixson was first in 2009 and 2010. Hixson lost to eventual champion Greeneville in the first round last year and eventually finished third while the Purple Pounders didn't qualify a year ago.
"I feel good about our chances if we show up and wrestle like we're capable," said Hixson coach Garrick Hall, who just celebrated his 200th dual-meet victory a week ago when the Wildcats beat Tyner.
"I'll be more excited when we get there, but I've been on the phone all day making sure everybody is where they need to be. We have such a young team with four freshmen in the starting lineup, but we just need to stay focused and take it one match at a time.
"That six-minute match is the only thing they can control, but we just have to act right and not have any drama with things like weight. I've told these guys that this is a business trip and not a vacation.
"I know that East Literature is really strong up top as they have some studs, but everyone's good when you get to this point," Hall said.
Hixson faces the 19-5 Eagles in the first round with the winner facing the Alcoa-Pigeon Forge winner in the semifinals.
While Yost, Higgins and Hall are all pumped about what's ahead, nobody is any more excited than Central coach John Lennon.
"I'm frustrated that we haven't been able to practice much this week, but I like the draw we got," he said when referring to his team's first match with Eagleville.
"I respect any team has has made it this weekend, but we're young and eager and have nothing to lose. We just have to let it go out there," Lennon said, the volume in his voice increasing as he talked.
"Our goal is to finish in the top four, but we have six freshmen starting and only two seniors. The future is bright, but we want it now. These kids have worked so hard and I couldn't be any more proud. I know that Alcoa and Pigeon Forge are both strong, but you have to beat the best to be the best," he continued, knowing that his team would face the Greeneville-White House winner in the semis.
"I can't promise you that we won't lose because we're out of shape. We're the toughtest in the third period. For some, they'll have to get pins when they can. For others, they'll have to do all they can to avoid getting piinned. Some will have to wrestle over their head, but it's all about bonus points.
"We only have 15 kids on our team, but we won the region and we're headed to the state tournament. Even though we have a small team numbers wise, we have something going on at Central. We are the most successful athletic team at Central and we take a lot of pride in what we're doing," Lennon added.
The D-II quarterfinals have McCallie facing defending champ Christian Brothers and Baylor tangling with Briarcrest. Those two winners would meet in the semis at 7:30 on Friday.
Listed below are the first-round pairings for all divisions:
AAA ROUND OF 16
Cleveland vs. Beech
Knoxville Halls vs. Bartlett
Science Hill vs. Maryville
Cookeville vs. Ravenwood
Heritage vs. Soddy Daisy
Collierville vs. Brentwood
Blackman vs. Bearden
Jefferson Co. vs. Wilson Central
Greeneville vs. White House
Eagleville vs. Chattanooga Central
Hixson vs. East Literature
Alcoa vs. Pigeon Forge
DIVISION II QUARTERFINALS
Father Ryan vs. Brentwood Academy
Montgomery Bell Academy vs. St. Benedict
Christian Brothers vs. McCallie
Briarcrest vs. Baylor
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)