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Baylor's Mason Reiniche, top, tries to control McCallie's Russell Barry during a home match in January 2017. Now a senior, Reiniche won a state championship last season.

As the leaves turn and temperatures drop, lights start coming on in wrestling rooms, and the light patter of wrestling shoes hitting the mat signals preparation for a new season.

It is an exciting time for many area high school teams, especially those with title aspirations.

"It's fun getting the guys back in the room and working hard to get back in shape," Baylor coach Ben Nelson said. "We have some good cohorts coming back and coming in, and we're excited about how they've been working."

Among those coming back are seniors Mason Reiniche and Andrew Pace and junior Connor Duffy. Reiniche and Pace are coming off individual state titles, while Duffy collected one in 2017 and was a runner-up last year.

The trio of upperclassmen understand what it takes to reach lofty goals, and Nelson said their experiences motivate those around them. It also helps having leaders in the wrestling room to get everyone up to speed at the right pace.

"All three of those guys are doing a great job of bringing everyone one up to where they need to be to get competition started," Nelson said. "We're not getting ready for December. We're getting ready for the end of January, so it's a process.

"It's fun to see guys come in with the expectation that it's where they want to be. They see it on the wall, on the championship banners and in the trophy case that this is a place where you can reach your potential and be a champion."

Guys such as Reiniche, Pace and Duffy have continued to add individual hardware to a packed case, but the Red Raiders are working toward climbing back to the top as a team, too. Baylor has not won a state duals championship since 2015 or a traditional state championship since 2011.

Nelson said last year's team had the right mindset to win one of the team titles but fell just short — finishing second in the state duals by a mere four points and third in the traditional tournament.

"It takes guys bonding and wrestling not just for themselves but seeing themselves as part of a bigger picture," Nelson said. "We had that last year. They wanted to win for each other, and we have that again this year. The guys have great chemistry and like being around each other and being part of the team. When you want to fight for the rest of the guys, it means a lot more in those dual-meet tournaments."

All of those factors — the desire to hang another title banner and winning as a team — certainly will kick-start Baylor's season, but having crosstown rival McCallie also atop its game brings an extra edge.

"They're a great team and a great program, and we have a lot of respect for what they do with their guys," Nelson said. "Knowing they're going to be there at the end of the year competing for a title motivates you.

"The expectation is that we're going to battle four weekends in a row with our regular-season dual, region tournament, state duals and traditional state. It's good to have those good rivalries, those healthy rivalries. We definitely see them as a motivator."

Baylor starts its season Dec. 1 at the Tullahoma Duals.

Contact Idris Garcia at sports@timesfreepress.com

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