Area should stay strong in TSSAA state tournament

Area should stay strong in TSSAA state tournament

February 21st, 2014 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

Cleveland's Chris DeBien, top, takes on Soddy-Daisy's Austin at Cleveland's Jones Wrestling Center in December.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Eight of the top 12 teams at last week's traditional TSSAA state tournament are from southeastern Tennesee, and based on returning medalists that fact doesn't figure to change.

Heading into next season, three of the state's top five Class AAA returning teams -- defending champion Cleveland, third-place finisher Bradley Central and Soddy-Daisy -- call Region 4 their home. In Class A/AA, again based on returning medalists, defending champion Hixson, Notre Dame and Red Bank will be among the top five contenders along with Alcoa and Pigeon Forge, and in Division II Baylor and McCallie will be in the thick of the race along with 2014 winner Father Ryan.

Cleveland returns seven qualifiers, six of them medalists, plus 106-pounder Colton Landers, who missed the postseason due to illness.

"The kid from Independence that won [at 106], Colton tech-falled him earlier in the year," Cleveland coach Jake Yost said. "But seven qualifiers coming back and six of them medalists, yeah, we can work with that."

Cleveland's strongest competition, other than 2014 runner-up Wilson Central, should be based within a few dozen miles in Bradley Central and Soddy-Daisy.

"Even after taking a couple of teams out of our region like Maryville and Heritage, our region still had the most medalists," Yost said.

That isn't enough for either Bradley or Soddy-Daisy.

"We almost beat everybody, but we didn't beat anybody," Bradley coach Ben Smith said. "We separated ourselves from a lot, but we still didn't catch Cleveland. We have something to build on, and our take is that we're moving forward and looking to get Bradley back on top. We're pretty fired up."

The Bears graduate five of their eight qualifiers but left Franklin with two individual champions and a runner-up, each among their returnees.

Soddy-Daisy, meanwhile, struggled and left two potential state medalists -- Chase Payne (106) and Austin Houser (126) -- home after they were unable to compete in the region.

"I would hope we'd be in the top five. I don't mean to sound like a bum, but I don't know how to not think about us being in the hunt," Trojans coach Jim Higgins said. "Expectations have always been here even when I was young and coming through the program, and there's a saying that success begins with high expectations. I do like the [returning] numbers, and we have talent in the room and talent coming up."

It's a group that includes potential 106-pounder Landon Wheaton, 2013 qualifier Conner Stiles, who split time this year with returnee Emory Holcomb, and 113-pound Jacob Thomas.

Hixson will be a state favorite again in A/AA, along with Alcoa and Pigeon Forge.

"To get out of the region [before the A/AA division came into being this year] was half the battle. It's the same now," Wildcats coach Garrick Hall said.

The Wildcats won the state with but one finalist and did it by storming through the consolation rounds.

"The kids stepped up. I told them they needed to believe in themselves and each other, and they broke it down to 'Believe,'" Hall said.

Region 2-A/AA, which was comprised of Chattanooga teams, captured the most medals of any of the three regions. Those teams included Notre Dame, which had three champions, Red Bank, East Ridge and Signal Mountain.

The strength carries over to Division II with McCallie and Baylor finishing second and third to Father Ryan.

They also appear to be in strong contending positions for 2015. Both have seven returning medalists including three champions and two runners-up.

"I feel pretty good about what we have coming back although we lost three good ones," McCallie coach Mike Newman said. "It's just about getting the kids to do something in summertime to get better.

"Our big thing, the state tournament is not won two or three weeks before it takes place but in the offseason. We're in a good position now, but we have a lot of work to do. Everybody's getting better, and if you're sitting still you're going to get left behind."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.