Ben Nelson didn't get home until after 2 Sunday morning but the Baylor wrestling coach didn't mind the late trip home. He was carting the Division II state duals wrestling title with him.
On Sunday he slept in as late as daughters Katie and Camden would allow and then spent much of the day catching up on missed family time.
It was easier to relax because one, his first state championship was secured and, two, his team had returned to the familiar grounds of state title runs.
Pressure and wrestling coaching go hand-in-hand at Baylor, and Nelson was attempting to succeed legendary Jim Morgan.
"I really believe I'm in a fortunate situation with regard to the state championship. I stepped into a program where the gears were in place to do this which is rarely something you're going to have with most coaching opportunities," Nelson said.
But with those tools came the expectation and the coach said it was nice to "get that monkey off my back.
"Winning [state championships] is an expectation at Baylor. It is a successful program. You realize that when you come in and you realize it when you take the job. It's nice to be able to fulfill expectations that people have."
His team fulfilled his expectations in grinding out a 27-25 victory over Christian Brothers.
Brandon Brunner is a returning state medalist but few expected him to have much success when CBHS bumped up 112-pound Tate Robinson, their U.S. Cadet nationals all-American. Granted, Robinson won the match (6-1) but Christian Brothers coaches didn't get the six-pointer they'd visualized.
"Brandon wrestled so hard and went so hard for the team. He got caught early and wound up having to play catch-up, which is really hard to do against a good wrestler," Nelson said.
But that was just one instance. The general opinion was that Christian Brothers had a good shot at bonus points at 145 pounds and possibly at 171, 189 and 215.
"They were expecting [bonus] points and our guys either took it to the wire or gave up a three- or four-point decision. We're looking for that kind of maturity from our guys and I think we're peaking at the right time," the coach said.
For the record, CBHS won eight of the 14 bouts but got only two bonus points. Baylor, on the other hand, started the meet with a pin from 140-pound Stuart Doster, got another close to halfway through from senior John Mackey and another from 125-pound Zack Watson that put them ahead to stay.
"When Zack was able to get that pin I felt very secure [about the win] with Alex Manley coming up [for the final match] and Alex being as solid as he is. I felt it was going to be impossible for [Christian Brothers] to pull it off."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6288.
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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