Ben Smith is settling in already as the new head coach at Bradley Central, ready to take on all comers in the Bears' defense of their state duals wrestling championship.
"It's been fun -- not as much as being an assistant because there's more to worry about," said the successor to legendary Steve Logsdon. "Now we're in season and I can do what I love -- being on the mat and being with the kids."
In the preseason, Smith found out firsthand the headaches of fundraising and preparation.
"The tempo, well, we have a higher-paced [practice], but I feel like we're hitting our stride," he said. "The team is responding after three weeks of practice."
If there was a problem he's working to fix, it's finding his team cramped for space.
"The room is packed. The Kids Club is growing, and because of the success [in wrestling] of our football players, we have more football players coming out," Smith said. "They're all big boys and we're looking to get another mat and put it in the upper gym. You've got guys like Patrick Benson, who's 295 pounds, and he can't go full throttle in the room because he's afraid of taking a guy down onto someone else.
"But the family vibe, the brotherhood and the tradition are alive and well."
In a poll of several dozen area coaches, Cleveland came out on top as the state's best by two points over Soddy-Daisy. Baylor was third, Bradley Central fourth, Father Ryan fifth, Christian Brothers sixth, Ravenwood seventh and Mount Juliet eighth.
Most coaches believe the A/AA duals title will come down to defending champ Central, Pigeon Forge and Hixson.
Going for five
Baylor's Zach Watson, who'll be shooting for his fifth state championship, heads a list of area returning state champions including Soddy-Daisy's Jonah Smith (103), Jacob Stevens (112) and Campbell Lewis (130); Cleveland's Aaron Lopez (140); and Bradley's Patrick Benson (285) in Division I and Baylor's Cole Holloway (103), Brandon Brunner (119) and Barrett Gouger (285) in Division II. Watson wrestled last year at 126 pounds.
McCallie's T.J. Duncan (160) became the state's first five-time champion last season. He's now wrestling at Maryland.
In Division I, Cleveland won the traditional state championship, Bradley took the Class AAA state duals title and Central won the A/AA crown. In Division II, Baylor won both championships.
A proposal from the Division II committee had been submitted to change its state duals from a double-elimination tournament to single-elimination.
"The idea is to make it a one-day event and to save on expenses for a day. The other reason was we wrestle each other multiple times during the year already," McCallie coach Mike Newman said.
"I don't see Division I doing that. We went to double-elimination because people travel so far and ought to be able to get more than one match," said Soddy-Daisy coach Steve Henry, who also is president of the Tennessee Wrestling Coaches Association.
Lookout Valley skips
For the second year, Lookout Valley will not field a team, coach Bill Ward saying earlier this year that there was still a lack of numbers.
In looking at Division I's returning state qualifiers, Cleveland leads with 11, followed by Soddy-Daisy with 10. Soddy-Daisy's returnees scored 34 points in last year's state tournament, Cleveland's 26.
Other potential contenders are their returning qualifiers:
8 -- Gibbs; 7 -- Ravenwood, Science Hill; 6 -- Cordova, Pigeon Forge; 5 -- Bradley Central, Clarksville, Franklin, Ooltewah; 4 -- Houston.
Returning medalists: 9 -- Cleveland; 7 -- Soddy-Daisy; 6 -- Cleveland; 4 -- Clarksville; 3 -- Bradley Central, Pigeon Forge; 2 -- Ravenwood.
Dates to remember
Dec. 3 -- Ooltewah Invitational; Old-Timers duals at Maclellan Gym
Dec. 10 -- Cleveland duals, East Hamilton "Day of duals"
Dec. 16-17 -- Bradley Invitational, McCallie Invitational
Dec. 17 -- Chattanooga Christian Invitational
Dec. 20 -- Hixson duals
Jan. 5 -- Soddy-Daisy at Cleveland
Jan. 6 -- Trojan duals at Soddy-Daisy
Jan. 7 -- Central Invitational, Soddy-Daisy Invitational
Jan. 6-7 -- Georgia area duals
Jan. 10 -- Soddy-Daisy at Baylor, Hixson at Red Bank
Jan. 12 -- Cleveland at Bradley Central, Soddy-Daisy at Ooltewah
Jan. 13-14 -- Georgia state duals
Jan. 17 -- Bradley at Sody-Daisy
Jan. 26 -- Region 4-AAA duals at Bradley Central
Jan. 27 -- Baylor at McCallie
Feb. 3-4 -- Tennessee state duals in Franklin; Georgia traditional regionals
Feb. 10-11 -- Region 3 traditional at Bradley Central, Region 4 traditional at Soddy-Daisy, -- Georgia traditional sectionals
Feb. 16-18 -- Tennessee traditional state at Franklin; Georgia traditional state in Duluth
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 ...