There is an air of excitement around East Ridge, whose Pioneers left Thursday afternoon for Tennessee's state duals wrestling championships.
"There's a little buzz around the school and the kids are happy with what they've done, but they're not satisfied," coach Brad Laxton said.
East Ridge, which last went to the state duals 20 years ago, is one of six Chattanooga-area teams that will compete in the tournament, which begins this afternoon and concludes Saturday night. Hixson also is in the A/AA field, while Baylor and McCallie are in Division II. Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland, the 2012 finalists, are among the AAA contenders.
The tournament will be at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo in Franklin and begins at 4:30 EST.
The 1993 Pioneers finished fifth in what was then the Small school division after winning the championship in 1991.
"We had some kids who had dropped to the back of the pack, but they seemed to pick it up the last couple of weeks," Laxton said. "We started early in the season talking about goals, and we have started slowly achieving those. This last week we have focused on keeping them both healthy and happy."
The Pioneers (17-7) open against Sycamore (17-12) at 6:30 and then wrestle the winner of the meet between Hixson (17-5) and Greeneville (15-7).
"I think we're focused on finishing strong," Laxton said. "The guys are close and they wrestle for each other. That's huge in a dual atmosphere."
Only a handful of East Ridge squad has seen the Williamson County facility, and that's one reason the Pioneers drove there Thursday. Laxton planned to get in a Thursday night workout to let them get familiar with the layout.
He also will take the opportunity to remind them of the challenges.
"We've talked about wrestling the matches [mentally] too early and not allowing that adrenaline dump too early," he said. "We don't want to look back or look ahead but focus on the match that's next."
At least the Pioneers don't have to worry about sitting in the first round, which is the case with Baylor in the Division II bracket. The Red Raiders received a bye when Memphis University School backed out due to injuries and illness, according to the TSSAA's Mark Reeves.
"I don't like it personally," Baylor coach Ben Nelson said. "I like getting that first match out of the way. Not having a first-round match is not an advantage for us. I'd rather have a match and then go into the semis, but I won't say it's going to hurt us."
The Red Raiders are expected to meet Christian Brothers, the pre-tournament favorite, in the semifinals.
"As a staff we'll be able to watch Christian Brothers, which is a plus because we haven't seen them in action," Nelson said.
Baylor and McCallie are the only area teams waiting until today to drive to Franklin. The rest made the trip Thursday.
"I'm more comfortable going up the day before," Hixson coach Garrick Hall said. "You never know about weather or traffic, and you sure don't want to miss weigh-ins," he said.
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 ...