FRANKLIN, Tenn. – It’s mighty quiet here at the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Center today, but it will be a hotbed of action Saturday morning when 28 teams from across the state gather with hopes of claiming a State Duals wrestling championship later in the day.
If you know anything about prep wrestling in Tennessee, you know that teams from Chattanooga have dominated for years. Chances are better than average that that domination will continue on Saturday.
Baylor, Cleveland and Bradley are 1-2-3 in the latest state wrestling poll. These three teams have won more team titles in wrestling than everyone else combined.
Baylor will be shooting for its fifth straight state title among the Division II, Class AAA division while Cleveland will be looking for its sixth straight title among the D-I, Class AA competitors.
Nothing is guaranteed on Saturday, but it’s a safe bet to say that the Bradley Bears will be on the other side of the mat from Cleveland when that championship battle begins.
And then you have Signal Mountain, an up-and-coming team that won its first duals title a year ago and is one of the favorites to win again in the Class A gathering.
Soddy Daisy is back in the race this year after a few years away and the Trojans have just as good a chance as anyone. Signal Mountain beat the Trojans by seven points in the Region 4 Duals, so anything can happen.
And don’t overlook the Boyd Buchanan Buccaneers, a team making its first appearance in the state duals. They’ve battled injuries all season, but are finally healthy and ready to challenge for the D-II, Class A-AA title.
It all begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday (10 a.m. Chattanooga time with all four quarterfinal matches in the D-I AA and A brackets.
Signal Mountain faces Gibbs in its first match while Soddy Daisy faces a tough challenge with Fairview. Cleveland takes on Rossview while Bradley will battle Brentwood.
Baylor and Boyd Buchanan both wrestle in the second round as the Buccaneers face BGA in their first match. Baylor is still waiting to see who their opponent will be as the Red Raiders will face the West region’s number two team while MBA will take on the winner from the West.
The West division winner will be determined Friday night when Father Ryan hosts Christian Brothers. That match had been scheduled for Memphis last weekend, but protests in Memphis cancelled those plans. And a snow-storm in West Tennessee erased the idea of these two meeting on Tuesday, so it will all be determined on Friday at Father Ryan.
Here is a look at all six teams from the Chattanooga area and what they expect when the action begins on Saturday. All of the championship matches are set for a 7 p.m. start local time.
CLEVELAND: The Blue Raiders haven’t lost a dual meet in several years and are 21-0 this year, including four wins over arch-rival Bradley.
A win over Rossview would send the Blue Raiders to a semifinal match with the Maryville-Summit winner.
Cleveland coach Joey Knox is now in his sixth season at the leader of the Blue Raiders and he’s never lost a state tournament with five duals and five traditional titles. He knows as well as anyone that nothing is guaranteed and that his team will have to perform at the top of their ability to win again.
“We’re really young with nine sophomores and two freshmen in our lineup, so our main focus is simply to take care of business,” Knox said earlier this week.
“We have to take care of the small details, but these guys have been here before and they know what we have to do. It’s the same story every year as we have to approach it with the right mindset.
“Bonus points is the name of the game, but I’m confident that we’ll be okay. All of these state tournaments are special, but if we perform like we’re capable, we should do just fine,” Knox added.
BRADLEY: The Bears have more state wrestling titles than anyone with 14 Duals and 12 Traditionals. Add another 14 times where they finished second and you know that this team knows what it takes to win it all.
The Bears enter tomorrow’s action with a record of 17-5 with one loss to Baylor and four to Cleveland, including two by one point.
Bradley faces Brentwood in the first round with a match with the winner of Wilson Central and Dobyns Bennett waiting in the second round.
Ben Smith has been the Bradley head coach for the past 12 years and he’s been a part of all the years where his team just totally dominated. He’s just hoping that his team is ready for Saturday’s challenge.
“You can bet that I’m ready. I’m just hoping that my kids are ready as well,” Smith said between classes on Wednesday.
“Brentwood is always well-coached and traditionally a great program, so it’s not the easiest first-round match in the world. We saw them at a tournament in January and are familiar with them, so we should be okay.
“It’s time to put up or shut up for us. We have yet to beat Cleveland this year, but we come from the best community in the state for wrestling. I would be honored to face them again in the finals.
“We still have a chance to put points on the board. We’re not asking for a miracle, but I just want our team to finish at the top. I know what we’re capable of doing, so we’ll just wait and hope for the best,” Smith added.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN: The Eagles come in with an impressive record of 19-2, the only losses coming against Baylor and Bradley. Signal breezed to a 70-12 romp over Seymour in the sectional match, so you can tell that the Eagles are peaking at the right time and ready for another run at the top spot in their classification.
“It should be a fun weekend, but we’re 100 percent healthy and ready to go,” said Signal Mountain coach Houston Clements.
“We know that Gibbs is really good, so we’re expecting a tight match. Actually, at least seven teams in our bracket have a shot at winning, but we may have the advantage as we have the three Uhorchuk brothers on our team,” he said in reference to JoJo, Ethan and Caleb as three of the toughest lightweights anywhere.
“Nine of our guys were here last year and I’m sure that experience counts for something. And I can promise you we won’t face anyone better than Baylor or Bradley.
“We’ll have to win three tough matches to win it all, but we have wrestled some really good teams along the way and are as ready as we’re going to get. Everyone on our team has a role, even the ones who might lose, but we’re ready to get started,” Clements nodded.
SODDY DAISY: The Trojans enter Saturday’s tournament at 32-5, but on a hot streak after beating perennial powerhouse Pigeon Forge on the road in their sectional match last Friday.
It’s been five years since Soddy Daisy advanced to the state duals and it’s been longer than that since they claimed their last state duals title in 2012. Coach Ulric Winesburgh has done an amazing job turning this program around in his third season, so he’s expecting great things on Saturday.
“We’ll be good to go on Saturday, but we know it will be a tough challenge. We’ve been working really hard this season and if we do what we’re capable of doing, we can win it all,” the bearded coach said with confidence.
“The key for us is to be consistent and to fight for every single point. It’s all about taking it one match at a time, but it’s just another day on the mat. Most of our kids have never been to this tournament before, but we just need for everyone to do their part.
“We’re dialing it back in practice the rest of the week, but we’ll have a light workout at Franklin High School on Friday before going to work on Saturday,” Winesburgh added.
BAYLOR: The Red Raiders enter Saturday’s tournament at 10-1, the only loss coming against the top prep team in the country from New Jersey.
Baylor has been the top-ranked team in the state all season and coach Rex Kendle is confident that his team has what it takes to win for the fifth straight year.
Baylor will be missing a couple of key team members this weekend as Micah Tisdale had an emergency appendectomy last week and won’t be available. And sophomore standout Logan Paradise, who just transferred to Baylor from Georgia this season, has returned to Georgia.
Add to those facts that the Red Raiders graduated eight seniors from last year’s team and you can see that Kendle and his staff have been working hard to stay on top.
“We still don’t know who we will wrestle yet, but I can promise you that our guys will be ready,” Kendle said by phone.
“It’s totally different from last year, but our goal is to find a way to win it again. We’re going for our fifth-straight duals title and that’s a big deal for us, but we’re ready to wrestle and won’t be holding anything back. It’s all about scoring more bonus points than our opponent.
“It’s really a wide-open tournament with no clear-cut favorite. Just a matter of who shows up and has the best day on Saturday. We’ve had a bunch of kids step up so far this season and we expect no less on Saturday,” Kendle added.
Chances are good that Christian Brothers will be Baylor’s first match on Saturday with the winner advancing to the finals against the winner of MBA and Father Ryan.
BOYD BUCHANAN: The Buccaneers have been plagued with injuries this season and unable to field a full team to this point, but all are healthy and ready to compete now according to head coach Michael Sutherland.
The Bucs face BGA in their first match with the winner taking on the winner of Lakeway Christian and Friendship Christian.
“Injuries have been a problem for us all season and for that reason, our dual-meet record isn’t very good, but we’ve been working hard for a long time and we finally have all our guys back on the mat,” Sutherland explained.
“Our lower weights are our strength, but our younger guys have to step up and not be overwhelmed by the pressure. We finished second at both the Central and Soddy Daisy tournaments, so we have some experience in big tournaments.
“It should be interesting on Saturday. If we can get a break or two, anything can happen. I feel like we have a good chance of advancing to the finals,” the energetic coach added.
Here’s a list of first-round matches on Saturday.
DIVISION I, CLASS A
Signal Mountain vs. Gibbs
Tullahoma vs. Sycamore
Page vs. Knoxville Halls
Soddy Daisy vs. Fairview
DIVISION I, CLASS AA
Cleveland vs. Rossview
Maryville vs. Summit
Wilson Central vs. Dobyns-Bennett
Bradley vs. Brentwood
DIVISION II, CLASS AAA
Baylor vs. Father Ryan-Christian Brothers loser
MBA vs. Father Ryan-Christian Brothers winner
DIVISION II, CLASS A-AA
Lakeway Christian vs. Friendship Christian
Boyd Buchanan vs. BGA.
Rossview vs. Gibbs
Cleveland vs. Clarksville
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)