CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A season ago, the Cleveland High School wrestling team rode the wave of a strong region tournament to the state traditional championship.
The Blue Raiders are off to a good start for a possible repeat.
Cleveland will have a tournament-high 12 wrestlers competing for individual Region 3-AAA titles when the championship round begins at 3 this afternoon at Bradley Central. The consolation rounds will start at 11 a.m.
The top four wrestlers from each region qualify for the state tournament starting Thursday in Franklin, so Cleveland is guaranteed 12 spots and its other two wrestlers are still alive in consolations.
Bradley has the second most in the championship round, with seven. Through the semifinals, the Raiders have accumulated 222 points, with the Bears second at 143.5 and Walker Valley third at 75.5. Maryville Heritage is fourth with 69 and Maryville High is fifth with 57.5.
"I'm optimistic, but I never expect to get 12 into the finals of a tough region," Cleveland coach Eric Phillips said. "I knew we were capable, but we had to finish and we did, so it's a good day. The guys are excited about the day: They wrestled hard and smart."
Walker Valley coach Al Morris said the Raiders did "what they were supposed to do."
"They did what the seeding suggested they would do today," Morris said. "We all knew that Cleveland was a heavy favorite coming in."
Heritage had the third-most finalists with three, with Walker Valley and Maryville each putting two into the finals.
"We had a few matches on paper where I thought we had a chance," Morris said. "I felt we had some opportunities in some matches, but we have to learn to take advantage in those close matches. We're still young, so I hope we can improve on that."
Phillips said his team's loss in the state dual finals to Soddy-Daisy has fueled the Raiders.
"It left a stinky taste in our mouth," he said. "We lost a couple of matches over the years that I believe helped us realize that we can wrestle.
"The feeling is similar, but we're not at all satisfied with today."