FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Chattanooga was well represented at the State Duals wrestling tournament this weekend at the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Center as four of the six teams finished in the medals.
The Cleveland Blue Raiders, who have ranked first all year among all Tennessee teams, improved to 34-1 with its 33rd straight victory as they won the AAA title with a 51-22 victory over Science Hill.
Signal Mountain and Baylor both finished second as the Eagles dropped a 40-33 decision to Gibbs in the A-AA final while the Red Raiders lost a 32-28 match to Christian Brothers after trailing 19-0 early.
Cleveland won its first three matches against the Hilltoppers and basically never looked back.
It was the first state duals title for first-year coach Joey Knox and he was beside himself when it finally ended.
“I knew if we ever hit 100 percent that special things would happen and I think we came pretty close to it tonight,” Knox said before talking to his team.
“Winning at 220 got us rolling. Wilson Benefield won a tough match in overtime before a pin from Titus Swafford basically sucked the life out of them and really got our momentum rolling.
“I can’t imagine having a better group of guys as they have been warriors all year long. But we’re not done yet as we still have two weeks with a lot at stake,” Knox added.
Signal Mountain lost its first three matches by pins to fall behind 18-0 from the start and the Eagles never recovered. A technical fall from Kevin Muschel at 126 got the Eagles within 24-15, but Gibbs put the match away when Noel Leyva posted a first-minute pin at 160 to put his team up 40-21.
Signal Mountain got forfeits in the final two matches for the seven-point margin.
Perhaps the highlight of the match for Signal Mountain was Isaac Tate’s 16-8 major decision at 113 pounds, which was his 100th career victory.
It was a storybook tournament for Signal Mountain. Despite it not ending on a more positive note, coach Joe Jellison had to keep reminding his kids of what they had just accomplished.
“We made a few mistakes, but we can’t base our season on what we did in this last match. Nobody expected us to be in this match tonight, but I knew we were ready when we knocked off top-seeded Greeneville in Friday’s first match,” he said afterward.
“We have a lot to be happy about, but now we have to refocus and get ready for the region next week. These are just 14 and 15-year-old kids, but they showed a lot of heart and they fought every second of every match. We knew this last match would be a tough one, but we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of,” Jellison added.
Baylor had lost to the Purple Wave back in December at the Cleveland Duals, but a few key members didn’t wrestle that day and coach Ben Nelson was hoping the second time might be different.
The Red Raiders had improved a lot since that time, but obviously Christian Brothers had as well.
The guys from Memphis made a strong statement from the opening match with four straight wins and a 19-0 lead, one that Baylor never recovered from.
Porter Kaufman posted a 10-2 major decision at 113 for Baylor’s first win, but it never got much closer as the Purple Wave claimed its third state duals title while improving to 23-3.
“We can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves as we just have to get ready for the next two weeks,” Nelson said following the match.
“We wrestled as hard as any team I’ve ever had and we had a lot of great opportunities. There were a few matches where we had hoped the results would be different, but it all depends on where you start.
“We got into a hole early and just couldn’t seem to claw back quite enough,” he added.
The McCallie Blue Tornado, who lost a tough semifinal match to Christian Brothers Friday night, bounced back to claim third place with a convincing 58-17 victory over defending D-II champ Father Ryan. That win followed a 51-21 win over Montgomery Bell Academy in the consolation semifinals.
“We’ve had a good day as we bounced back well from a tough loss last night,” said McCallie coach Mike Newman.
“I’m really proud of our effort as this was our last dual meet of the season and we wanted to finish on a strong, positive note. We weren’t able to meet our ultimate goal, but I’m really happy with what I saw today,” he added.
Soddy Daisy and Hixson both bounced back to win their first matches on Saturday in the AAA and A-AA consolation brackets, but both were eliminated before reaching the match for third place.
Soddy Daisy was impressive in a 44-30 win over Houston in its first match before eliminating Blackman by a 41-39 final. The third match was not the charm for the Trojans as Wilson Central bolted to a commanding 32-3 lead before advancing with a 42-20 win.
Hixson knocked off Alcoa by a 45-30 final in its first match before dropping a 40-33 verdict in the consolation semis.
Meanwhile, Cleveland advanced to the AAA championship match with an impressive 41-24 victory over Arlington. The Blue Raiders then faced Science Hill for the title after the Hilltoppers outlasted Maryville Heritage by a 37-31 final in what turned out to be the best match of the tournament.
“We’re coming on stronger and stronger with each match, but all we ask is that they give us their best effort,” said Cleveland’s Joey Knox after his team won its 31st straight match and improved to 33-1.
“That last takedown by Titus Swafford in the heavyweight match was huge. Arlington tried to shift their lineup, but it didn’t work too well for them,” Knox added.
Soddy Daisy put themselves in a tough spot by losing to Brentwood in the first match on Friday. The Trojans looked a lot better on the second day, but it’s tough to come back through the consolation bracket like that.
Head coach Jim Higgins spent Saturday in the motel battling flu symptoms, so assistant coaches Brad Laxton and Ashley Brooks were in charge for those last three battles.
“We didn’t wrestle as well as we could have, but we just didn’t have enough power today,” Laxton said after Soddy’s final match with Wilson Central.
“We lost a match on Friday we shouldn’t have lost, but we battled back today. We showed a lot of heart and really good effort and that’s what really counts,” he added.
Hixson coach Garrick Hall certainly doesn’t like to lose, but he liked what he saw from a team that graduated nine seniors from last year’s team.
Hixson’s match with Fairview came down to the end. The Wildcats had a 30-13 lead following the match at 138 pounds, but Fairview came storming back to win the next four matches and took a 34-30 lead with a pin at 170.
The Wildcats got within 34-33 with a 6-3 decision by Deven Baker at 182, but with the match on the line, Tristan Mann scored a third-period pin in the final match of the day to provide the margin of victory for the Yellow Jackets.
“That’s what happens with a bunch of young kids in the lineup, but you can’t put the blame on a first-year wrestler like Benjamin Kuberg. It wasn’t his fault, but our guys just have to learn how to rise to the occasion in a match like this,” Hall expressed.
“Nobody even gave us a chance to make it here this weekend and at least we won a match, which is better than we did last year. But I’m never pleased as there’s always something we can do better,” Hall added.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)