Baylor heads into this weekend's state duals in Franklin as a heavy favorite to win its second straight Division II championship.
The Red Raiders will once again represent a high school wrestling program rich in history, with 24 TSSAA team state titles (10 duals, 14 traditional) and 117 individual state champions since 1971. This year's team is No. 48 in the InterMat Wrestling national rankings and has pummelled in-state competition, winning its dual meets by an average score of 55.3-13.7 while compiling a 14-3 record, with all three losses in a New Jersey tournament that included national powers.
That history of past and current success is its own source of motivation for the Red Raiders, who know championships are never guaranteed.
"We all have natural wrestling talents, but when you put that together with extremely hard work, there is no telling what you can accomplish," Baylor senior captain Barrett Chambers said after his team finished Thursday's practice with crunches and burpees.
"It is easy to just sit around and go through the motions at practice, but that's not what this team is about at all. Our coaches are too good. The school is too special and this program is too historic to do that. We have so much history here, and we have to live up to that. We are just a small speck on that great big shadow and hope to add to the history books."
State duals for all three classifications begin Friday at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center, with the finals set for Saturday evening.
Baylor is joined in the Division II field by Chattanooga Christian (17-5), McCallie (9-2), Battle Ground Academy (13-8), Brentwood Academy (22-10), Christian Brothers (16-1), Father Ryan (18-6) and Montgomery Bell Academy (15-5).
"Winning state titles doesn't just come with us getting new kids in from different parts of the state or others," said Baylor senior 132-pounder Noah Horst, who will look to become a four-time state champion in the traditional tournament later this month.
"Every single day there is a kid in here bleeding, vomiting or getting worn out by another teammate. Talent doesn't beat hard work. I challenge some of our younger kids and take it to them in practice. We have to bust our butts when we are in here for an hour and a half."
As two of four seniors on the team — Chase Radpour (145) and Connor Duffy (182) are the others — Horst's and Chambers' journeys have intertwined as they have wrestled together since elementary school, although Horst spent his first year of high school at Beech and was a state champion before transferring to Baylor.
Seeing each other succeed and become role models for younger teammates has been special for both.
"Everyone looks up to Noah, and you need people like that on a team," Chambers said. "When you can bring everyone together and rally around one another, that's what a team is about. The coaches can only say so much. At some point you have to lead by example."
Although injuries affected Chambers' freshman and sophomore seasons, coaches convinced him to stick with the sport. He has been a standout all season after making the leap from the 160-pound weight class to 220.
"I have seen Barrett get hurt and go through the struggle," Horst said. "Man, he has improved tremendously and has been fun to watch this year. Our goal every day is to get better together. There is no limit to how far we can go."
An accomplished coaching staff that includes Schaack Van Deusen, who has had a hand in every Baylor wrestling state championship, is another reason the Red Raiders will have another chance to add to their history of success.
"Our older guys have done such a great job bringing this team of younger guys along," said coach Ben Nelson, whose team has five returning state champions, four of them sophomores. "Once they see the banners and pictures on the wall, they realize they are wrestling for not only themselves but for everyone who has come before them at Baylor, too.
"This is the week where all their hard work is hopefully rewarded."