published Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Baylor, McCallie could contend for 2014 state wrestling title

Baylor's Zach Watson controls James Simpson of Father Ryan in a 126-pound match during a dual meet at McCallie School.
Baylor's Zach Watson controls James Simpson of Father Ryan in a 126-pound match during a dual meet at McCallie School.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Baylor last won a traditional state wrestling championship in 2010. The runner-up that year was McCallie.

They'd like nothing better than to end the dry spell, but coaches at neither Division II school in Chattanooga wants that favorite's label headed into the 2013-14 season.

With reigning champion Christian Brothers graduating 14 seniors and returning only four state medalists, Baylor's Ben Nelson was asked about the early favorite for next year.

"I wouldn't say us," he replied.

And why is that?

"Just because I don't want us to be," he retorted with a quick laugh.

His Red Raiders might not be the favorites despite returning three weight-class champions and adding former state champ Tate Robinson from Christian Brothers.

"I'd say Father Ryan," Nelson said. "They have the most returning finalists."

The runner-up Purple Irish, like fourth-place Baylor, will return eight medalists from last weekend's tournament. While the Nashville school has no returning champions, it will have four 2013 finalists back along with a 2012 finalist, Chris Wesnofske, who couldn't break into the lineup this year.

"I guess Ryan's the team to beat," added McCallie coach Mike Newman, which has the only Division II team other than Baylor with multiple returning champions. "It's always a battle. You never know about injuries and/or illness."

The returning champions include McCallie's Adam Connell (132) and Nathan Hoodenpyle (182), each now a junior, and Baylor's Michael Murphy (106), Bryson Popp (160) and Ryan Parker (170). Popp, son of former Hixson wrestling great Tom Popp, is now a three-time medalist and two-time finalist. He's a junior. Murphy, son of Pat Murphy -- another former Hixson standout -- and Parker are freshmen.

"I don't know where Michael will be next year (in weight). It appears that he has hit a growing spurt," Nelson said. "And Parker, well, he's unique. You look at the four- and five-time state champs and most of them are guys that started out at 106 (or the lowest available weight) and grew from there. It's unusual to have a guy start out and win at a higher weight."

Of course, Nelson would like to have a team that starts and stays healthy. Baylor has been besieged by injuries since he assumed the Red Raiders' coaching reins from Jim Morgan three years ago. They entered the state this year with two starters (Caleb Powell and Cole Holloway) unable to go because of injuries.

"I'm looking forward to an injury-free year. Maybe it will be next year," Nelson said.

McCallie, which has runner-up trophies from 2003 through 2006 and 2010 this century, would like to be in the mix again after its third-place finish this season, 6.5 points ahead of Baylor.

"The goal is to be No. 1," Newman said. "That's where everybody sets out with summer lifting, summer training and the freestyle programs, but I do feel good [about our chances]. We have some middle school youngsters coming up that I think will be ready to compete. As long as everybody spreads out their weight classes we should be OK."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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