CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. -- It's been less than two weeks since they lost their teammate, and though the pain is still very much prevalent within the wrestling room at Gordon Lee High School, there is a new resolve for the 27 athletes preparing for the coming season.
This was expected to be Jordan Queen's breakthrough season. He had worked hard in the offseason and was penciled in by coach Brent Raby into the 220-pound slot for a season in which the Trojans are expected to challenge for a Class A state championship.
But Queen was killed in a car accident, sending the close-knit Chickamagua community reeling and putting his wresting teammates in disbelief. Still, a season has to be carried out, and the Trojans are using the tragedy as motivation.
"We're doing it for Jordan," junior two-time state champion Alex Spires said. "He wanted to win a state championship this year, and now we're going to go out and win one for him."
Raby has allowed his wrestlers to grieve, and the team has been working on raising funds for the family, a gift the team will present the Queens before Tuesday's season-opening dual match with Trion. Now that they've returned to practice, though, Raby has been pushing them hard and each has responded.
"I told them that every time they think of getting tired, they should think of Jordan and then take it upon themselves to run Jordan's laps," Raby said. "Things are starting to get back to normal, but it's tough. Jordan was one of our leaders in the practice room. We're all coping with it the best we can, and it will help us when we can get back on the mat."
These Trojans really need no extra motivation as they head into a season with what Raby calls "the best talent we've had." Gordon Lee has finished second four consecutive seasons in the Class A traditional tournament, and with a team featuring five returning state finishers and a strong freshman class, Raby believes the team is ready to break through.
"We're not afraid to say this is the best we've been," Raby said. "And I know the guys are tired of finishing second and they want to do something about it."
Joining Spires as a returning state champion is 120-pound junior Mika Clark, while sophomore Will Jacks is coming off a 50-win season and a region championship. Ethan West, expected to wrestle at 160, and 170-pounder Shane Farmer, also placed in the state last year. Add up-and-comers Chase Wood at 113 and freshmen such as 106-pound USA Wrestling stars Johnny Ragsdale and Dallas Goodlet, it's easy to see why this team is so excited.
"I'm tired of not being at the top as a team," the 126-pound Spires said. "We're pushing each other hard in practice because we know we can win it all. It's tough losing Jordan, but we've all become closer because of it. We can't wait to get started."