CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The shoe is on the other foot, and to Cleveland's Blue Raiders it feels quite comfortable.
They are overwhelming favorites to win the Region 3 wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at Bradley Central. The tournament is to begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday and continue through the semifinals. Action resumes at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the championship finals are to begin at 3 p.m.
Admission is $6 per session or $10 for a Saturday all-day pass.
For years the tournament belonged to Bradley, but this year Cleveland has nine No. 1 seeds and three others picked for finals berths. The top four in each weight class advance to the state tournament Feb. 16-18 at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo in Franklin.
"It puts us in pretty good position to get some good [state] draws," said Cleveland coach Eric Phillips, whose team is looking forward to defending its 2011 state title. "I'd rather have nine No. 1 seeds than nine guys drawn into the bracket, but you still have to show up and wrestle. Those No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds aren't going to be rolling over."
It is a unique experience for Cleveland, which had lived in Bradley's shadow for more than a decade.
"It was usually pretty clear-cut," Phillips said. "Last year they had a No. 1 at most weights, and most everything was cut and dried. This year it's refreshing, but it will still be tough with Bradley, and then you throw in Walker Valley."
The remaining five top seeds went to Maryville Heritage's Keegan Matlock (152 pounds), Bradley's Jacob Bailey (160) and Patrick Benson (285), Maryville's Jaron Brock (170) and Walker Valley's Billy Raulston (195).
Cleveland's top seeds are Chris DeBien (106), Austin Stevison (113), Austin Oliver (120), Ezra Taylor (126), Hayden Hamilton (132), Brandon Strickland (138), Josh Hamilton (145), Jesse Jones (182) and Seth Snyder (220).
Bradley has No. 2 seeds in Dakota Ream (113), Jericho Crutcher (126) and Tyler Schuch (152), while Walker Valley's second-seeded wrestlers are Caleb Langford (132) and Lawrence Cotton (145).
The host Bears don't intend to wave any white flags of surrender.
"It is going to be interested," Bradley coach Ben Smith said. "We were a team that even with some older guys was inexperienced. We lost some early but we have had a barnburner of a season, and I think we're in a nice spot.
"We're not conceding anything," Smith added. "It might be more difficult in the region than in the state, where we can get some help. I think we can get 10 or 11 there, and if everybody wins a match or two and we get six or seven in the medals we might make a run. We're certainly building for next year."
Since Walker Valley opened, the Mustangs have played catch-up with the two more established programs in Cleveland. While he has no surrender in him, coach Alan Morris is a realist.
"It's Cleveland and then the rest of us. We hope we can make it interesting, but on paper Bradley is definitely the No. 2 team," he said.
Friday's first round, consisting of round-of-16 matches, should go quickly on three mats. There are only 20. Quarterfinals and semifinals also will be on a three-mat schedule.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...