The East Ridge wrestling program had a coming-out party of sorts Saturday, winning the school's first invitational championship in close to two decades.
The Pioneers, whose last traditional tournament title came at the 2000 regional, won East Hamilton's eight-team Hurricane Invitational with 264 points.
"We wrestled really well. The guys have worked hard and it shows," East Ridge coach Brad Laxton said.
East Hamilton was second with 142 points and Ooltewah third with 115.
East Ridge, which won a duals tournament early in the season at Muscle Shoals, Ala., is within two win of securing a trip to the Class A/AA state duals Feb. 1-2 in Franklin. The Pioneers wrestle East Hamilton at Chattanooga Christian this week and host Notre Dame the following week.
While many of the programs in the tournament are building or rebuilding, host coach Ryan Cooper said the Pioneers are almost beyond those stages.
"They have done some great things and made some great strides the last couple of years," he said. "I really see them as one of the better teams in our region."
Laxton is in his third season as the East Ridge coach, and many of those now representing the Pioneers have been with him since he arrived. One who has not -- and won a tournament title -- is heavyweight Will Garner, who has a 24-6 record as a senior in his first year on the team.
"He has added a dynamic that makes us a stronger dual-meet team," Laxton said.
Other winners were East Hamilton's Brian Potter (106); Dalton's Dylan Carlile (120); Ridgeland's Cody Brooks (126) and Mark McKevitt (170); Ooltewah's Matt Lemons (132), Jordan Russell (152) and Jordan Zink (182); Tyner's Hunter Daughtery (145); and East Ridge's Robert McAvoy (138), Delo Johnson (160), Brandon Cantrell (195) and C.J. Baker (220).
The Pioneers took a step back prior to last week's lopsided win over defending A/AA state champion Central when they lost 106-pound Hunter Owens.
"He had a bicycle wreck over Thanksgiving," Laxton said. "He continued to wrestle, but when the trainer saw him last week she advised us that he might have the type injury that a doctor needed to see. His mom took him to the doctor one day, and he was having surgery to have a pin put in his hip the next."
Laxton, who is assisted by Grant Blalock and Colby Walker, cited several wrestlers who have been key components to the Pioneers' season, specifically Cantrell, Kendall Small and Baker. Cantrell entered the day with a 27-3 record while Small was 30-5 and Baker was 32-3.
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 ...