Who are absolute favorites for Tennessee state duals wrestling championships this weekend?
Take your pick -- Christian Brothers in Division II and Soddy-Daisy in Class AAA. Central, which won the A/AA last year, didn't make the field.
There are three in Division II. Along with Christian Brothers, which won its first duals title a year ago, there are Baylor, Father Ryan and McCallie. Baylor, which most recently won in 2011, has seven duals championships. Father Ryan, which last won in 2010, also has seven. McCallie, which hasn't won a duals crown since 2006, also has title plaques from 2003, 1993, 1992, 1991and 1990.
Hixson is the only previous winner in this year's A/AA field, the Wildcats having taken back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
And in Class AAA, it's Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland, last year's state finalists, and Clarksville as the only former state champions in the tournament. It was 2000 when Clarksville collected its only championship and 1994 for Cleveland's Blue Raiders.
What about the undefeated?
There is but one and that's Wilson Central from Lebanon, which enters the tournament with a 28-0 record including wins over fellow AAA entrants Beech, Blackman, Independence and Heritage and A/AA contenders Pigeon Forge and Sycamore. The Wildcats are in the same half of the bracket as Soddy-Daisy.
The Division II contenders
Christian Brothers is the odds-on pick in Division II. The Purple Wave are 26-1 with their only loss coming to Pope from Marietta, Ga., at the Cleveland Duals. But then Pope beat everybody, and quite handily, that second weekend in December.
Before Father Ryan followers, who can be as boisterous as the CBHS crowd, get rankled, the Irish enter the duals sporting a 22-2 record. Their only losses are to Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland, both of which, CBHS folks are going to quickly point out, lost to the Purple Wave.
Baylor and McCallie are long shots at best this year.
The A/AA favorites
The A/AA field is tougher to decipher. Along with Hixson, Pigeon Forge has been in the tournament for a while and the Tigers have come close with runners-up trophies the last two years.
That said, all but one of the teams with A/AA championship hardware have come from Chattanooga -- Notre Dame with three, Hixson with two and Central with one. Franklin Road Academy won the other but Chattanooga has dominated since that 2005 FRA win in the first year of the A/AA tournament.
Pigeon Forge (19-7) has the most wins among the participating A/AA teams, but Hixson (17-5), East Ridge (17-7) and Sycamore (17-12) are close.
By the way, East Ridge has been here before and has won a state duals title, but it was in 1991 prior to the public/private split when the classifications were divided into Large and Small divisions. The Pioneers won the Small school division.
It's a shame that schools from the same geographic region wind up in the same half of the bracket, but it has happened at least three of the last four years to Chattanooga teams. If each wins its first match Friday afternoon, Hixson and East Ridge will meet in the semifinals Friday night.
And the AAA picks
Is it fair to project defending champion Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland as the finalists? After all, each has a first-year head coach -- Jim Higgins taking over for Steve Henry at Soddy-Daisy and Jake Yost for Eric Phillips at Cleveland -- but that's the opinion being offered most around the state and here.
Soddy-Daisy has tough matches with Science Hill and, probably, Maryville, before an anticipated semifinals match with Wilson Central. Cleveland, on the other hand, opens with eight-win Cordova and is then likely to face Clarksville, which is now coached by former Hixson standout Jackie Blosser. The Blue Raiders' semifinal opponent could be Maryville Heritage, a team they beat 51-15 very early in the season, but Heritage must survive tests against Blackman and, most likely, Independence.
Is it really fair?
It happens every year, although the characters have changed.
Walker Valley, which ended the season with a 26-6 record, is ranked 10th in the latest coaches' poll while longtime power Bradley Central, which has dominated the AAA field in both dual and traditional tournaments, is ranked ninth.
Is it out of the realm of common sense that the TSSAA might consider using the coaches' poll, as did college's BCS, in determining championship tournament matchups?
As Cleveland coach Jake Yost said last week, two of the top six or seven teams in the state are staying at home.
Duals odds & ends
While Wilson Central is the only unbeaten in the field, the team with the most victories is Ravenwood (33-12). Science Hill has 29, Clarksville 28, Beech and Heritage 26 each.
Cleveland is 22-2, its losses coming pre-Christmas to Soddy-Daisy and Christian Brothers, while Soddy-Daisy (13-4) has the third fewest wins of any team in the AAA field, having beat only Cordova (8-12) and Knoxville Halls (10-5).
Cordova is one of only two teams, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association site, with a losing record. The other is 15-24 Eagleville in A/AA.
There is a bye in the eight-team Division II field. Memphis University School was supposed to wrestle against Baylor in its opener, but the team was forced out of the field by injuries and illness. Baylor, therefore, will have a bye prior to its semifinal against Christian Brothers.
Wrestlers to watch this weekend
• Elan McCasland (126/50-4), Beech
• Amos Mason (220/47-0), Brentwood Academy
• Max Vaughn (132/40-4), Science Hill
• Christian Lozano (113/45-8), Beech
• Justin Becci (106/44-4), Christian Brothers
• Elijah Oliver (113/41-2), Christian Brothers
• Nate Croley (132/41-5), Pigeon Forge
• Barrett Walthall (170/39-3), Christian Brothers
• Tristan Hackett (120/40-7), Beech
• Joseph Dodgen (126/38-3), Pigeon Forge
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 ...