FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Cleveland senior wrestler Nate Schilling raised the TSSAA Class AAA state duals championship plaque over his head Saturday night, overcome with emotion after the Blue Raiders beat Wilson Central 43-18 in the final.
Schilling had long awaited the moment to wrestle on the big stage in the Williamson County Ag Expo Center, and he made the most of it by winning all three of his matches at the two-day event to help the Blue Raiders (24-1) win their third straight duals title, backing up the team's motto: #MadeInCleveland.
"This weekend really means a lot because this was my first time being able to wrestle in the state finals," said Schilling, who had a 26-second pin and two major decisions, including a 10-2 win in the title dual.
"The past three years, I sat and watched. To be in there and compete was unreal. It meant so much more. The feeling was unreal. All I could hear was everyone screaming, and I had to keep total concentration."
Meanwhile, the state's lone nationally ranked squad pounded its way to a second straight Division II state duals title. With a 46-22 win over Christian Brother, the Baylor Red Raiders (17-3) earned the program's 11th state duals title overall.
Baylor senior 182-poudner Connor Duffy wrapped up his dual wrestling career in the strongest way possible securing a first-minute pin in the title dual. He was 3-0 in Franklin, with all of the wins by pin.
"I love this team," Duffy said. "I couldn't have been anywhere else. I love it here. This school has done so much for me and has made me into a strong young man. This is the perfect way to end it, but we want to make a lot of noise in the traditional tournament in a few weeks, too."
The Red Raiders challenged themselves in a big way this season as they wrestled opponents with top-10 national rankings and held their own in one of those matches in a New Jersey tournament.
With young standouts scattered throughout the lineup, including freshman standout Omaury Alvarez (160), Baylor wants to keep building toward being a nationally feared team.
"This team will never forget the memories they made this year," Baylor coach Ben Nelson said. "We love being able to keep the tradition going, and this team has created its own legacy. For Garrison Dendy (138) to end it was really sweet. He's an animal, and once he sealed it, that really was a great feeling for all of us."
Cleveland's Ashton Davis (220) was a wrecking ball to deal with on the mats as he won all four of his matches by pin, with three coming in the first round.
The Chattanooga area's strong wrestling tradition was also upheld by A/AA's Hixson (30-3), AAA's Bradley Central (20-6) and Division II's McCallie (12-3), with each finishing third.
Hixson's Devotis McCurdy (285) won both of his matches Saturday by pin — one in 11 seconds and the other in six, which tied for the quickest in state tournament history.
Cleveland junior 126-pound star Trae McDaniel built his team's lead to 30-9 with a second-round pin, and the title three-peat was sealed by junior Cael Laxton. The 152-pounder displayed laser-sharp focus with a strong takedown in the final 45 seconds of the third period for a 3-1 decision that gave Cleveland an insurmountable lead in the final.
"This team works so hard, and all the early morning wakeups and nonstop getting after it in the wrestling room has paid off," Laxton said. "For the past three months, our focus has been all wrestling. We want to continue the culture here, and this is just how we grew up. Wrestling means a lot to all of us."
The TSSAA postseason now shifts to the individual-based traditional tournaments, though those also have team points at stake. Wrestlers hope to return to Franklin in two weekends to climb atop the podium for more state titles.
Cleveland coach Joey Knox was grateful after his team's latest impressive feat.
"Our guys all have bought in and listened to what we tell them to do, and they have really done amazing," Knox said. "I also give credit to Josh Bosken. He has done an amazing job at our club level, and we couldn't do it without him. Everyone buys in, even the parents. They know how much we love their kids and push them to be the best young men they can be."