While Central will host its invitational wrestling tournament Saturday, the Purple Pounders are still applying their game face for the rest of the high school season.
There are still missing pieces and parts to be oiled before the two-time champs hope to defend their Class A/AA state duals title.
The 23 wrestlers, four of them with two title rings, have endured a lot since their 2012 championship was nailed down. They are still dealing with defections and a change in coaches from Marquis Dotson to John Lennon.
"The guys in the room still expect to win, but there are parts that still aren't clicking," said Lennon, who took the head coaching role at Central when Dotson lost his teaching position. "There were some guys that didn't want to make the commitment to do it again -- walking the halls right now -- that were part of that winning. They didn't care enough about their teammates to come back and work to do it again."
Part of their reasoning might have been the loss of Dotson, something team captain Larry Dickerson sought to explain.
"We couldn't believe it when he left. Everybody was down," he said. "I know it's tough [replacing Dotson], but Coach Lennon has stepped in really well. We're a family all over again."
They also were disappointed that assistant Josh Edmondson was no longer with the team.
Lennon can relate to disappointment. He resigned at Signal Mountain last year after dismissing a student from the team only to have the wrestler reinstated by the administration.
"It took a part of my love for wrestling -- that situation did. It was hurtful," he recalled. "I will always stand by my decision. A young man needed to be removed from the team. When it came down to it, it wasn't my decision and it should have been."
Lennon still teaches at Signal and seems very content with the school's new administration.
"It's a great place to be a teacher," he said.
While he sacrificed positive relationships with Signal wrestlers, he was determined to build new relationships at Central, and it was easy because he saw immediate positives in early practices with the Pounders.
When asked what he found, the former Cleveland state champ responded, "They have heart, a lot of heart, and like any wrestling program they could use a lot more support -- from the community and within the school."
He didn't make wholesale changes at Central, saying he was comfortable with the system in place as well as staff holdover Joey Knox, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout.
"I have let the system roll. It's one of drill and skill and intensity, and the kids have bought into that," Lennon said. "Joey and I share some qualities. He's very intense and he hates to lose. He has great communication skills with the kids, and they have bonded."
The ultimate goal remains the same, and the four guys with two titles -- Joe Stegall (132), Michael Frazey (145), Dickerson (152) and James Hughes (160) -- want another.
"We weren't focused the first half of the season. We had some guys not making weight," Dickerson said. "We have a chance to win and we're trying to get the younger guys who've never been there pumped up. They need to understand it will be hard to win that third state title if we don't work. I want us to work even harder. I don't want anybody going out there soft."
n Central and Soddy-Daisy are hosting one-day tournaments Saturday, and Central is adopting the fan-friendly philosophy former Soddy-Daisy coach Steve Henry fostered.
"It's what Mike Parker [head of Chattanooga wrestling officials] calls a turbo tournament," Lennon said. "We're going to weigh in at 7, start wrestling at 9 and go till we get done. We're not going to have parents sitting in the bleachers all day and night, and we're going to get the out-of-town teams headed for home at a decent hour."
There are 18 teams at Central and 17 at Soddy-Daisy.
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 ...