FRANKLIN — Although Cleveland wrestling coach Jake Yost would never admit it, all that was left for the Blue Raiders to do to claim their second consecutive state wrestling championship was showing up in the parking lot Saturday evening.
The Raiders walked into the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center with a 47-point lead over second place Wilson Central and five wrestlers in the championship finals. Wilson Central sent three Wildcats into the circle looking for the gold medal.
“It’s nice to be able to go into these finals matches and know the kids don’t have any added pressure on them trying to score team points or get pins to seal the deal. It’s nice to not have to do that,” said a finally relaxed Yost.”
“Friday was a huge day for us. We won seven of eight in the quarterfinals and five of seven in the semis. We only lost four matches all day Friday. Every time we turned around our kids were going out there, competing and doing what they needed to do find a way to make it one more round,” said Yost.
Chris DeBien (126 pound), Austin Stevison (132), Ezra Taylor (138), Josh Hamilton (170) and Ethan West (195) carried the Blue Raiders banner into the championship finals.
Nine wrestlers from Bradley Central, Cleveland and Walker Valley were all vying for state championships. Bradley’s Toribio Navarro and Knox Fuller, Cleveland’s Chris DeBien and Ethan West earned state titles.
Stevison, Taylor and Hamilton all earned second-place medals for the Blue Raiders and Walker Valley’s Billy Raulston took second place for the Mustangs.
Cleveland wrestler Aaron Oliver (152) ended the tournament in fourth place, Koran Kennedy (220) took fifth, Bradley’s Nathan Adams (170) and Cleveland’s William Haas (145), and John Gaither (220) finished in sixth.
For most at the state tournament, a forgone conclusion was a second consecutive state championship medal for Cleveland junior DeBien. The 126-pound Blue Raider did not disappoint with a first-period pin against Wilson Central’s Lane Dickeson.
In the 195-pound championship battle, West took a 4-1 lead after the first period. West’s lead increased to 6-2 after the second before Clarksville’s Kiel Russell tied it 7-7 in the third. West earned the second state championship of the night for Cleveland with a takedown as the clock ran out.
“Those five guys have worked hard all year and they deserve to be here. That’s kind of where our concentration was focused tonight, it wasn’t on the team title until all was said and done. We needed to make sure we were concentrated on those those because they have been working hard to reach those goals all year long,” Yost said of his finaists. “It’s a good day to be a Raider.”
After a rough start to the tournament, the Bradley Central Bears responded during the championship and consolation Friday setting the Ben Smith led team up for a third-place finish.
“I saw some ups and downs (in the tournament). I felt really dejected after Thursday night. We dropped six matches out of the first seven and had to really step back and put it in re-evaluation mode and just see it for what it was. Maybe we weren’t quite where we thought we were, but we rebounded well Friday, especially Friday night,” said Smith.
“Our three guys in the semis came through for us and we still had four guys alive in the top bracket. They all ended up scoring points for us in consolation rounds three and four. That put us in position to still be sitting in third for the finals.”
Bradley Central opened the finals with a trio of Bears looking for state victories. Freshman Ryan McElhaney (106), junior Toribio Navarro (113) and freshman Knox Fuller (120) capped the Bears 2014 appearance in Franklin.
Bradley Central 106-pounder took a 0-0 score into the third period before falling to eventual champion Dillan Friesner in overtime.
Navarro, who won the 106-pound state title last year, stepped into the circle in the 113-pound final against Nick Crawford and took a 2-0 lead into the second period. Holding a 6-2 lead in the third, Navarro held off Friesner in the final minute to walk off the mat as the 113-pound champion.
Fuller, looking to take the state title at 120, built a comfortable 5-0 lead after the first period before winning the second championship of the night for the Bears with a second period pin.
Smith said he felt the effort was there during the three days of all day wrestling. He feels the Bears are continuing to move forward and will be a wrestling force in Tennessee for years to come.
“Other than one person everyone scored points. It’s been a total team effort. We distanced ourselves from the other local programs in our region and that feels good,” observed Smith.
“We somewhat saw some guys grow up. We still have three or four guys in my opinion sitting in the stands that still should have been wrestling today. We are still looking to get those over the hump. But I saw some seniors who came into their own at this tournament. They finally had some hard work pay off. They finally got to see that they get out of it what you put into it. I was really proud of those guys because they are what kept us in the race.”
The good news for Smith and the Bears outside of three championship finalists will be the return of four more Bears who placed in the state tournament.
Bear Brett Brown, who will be returning next season, finished with a sixth-place medal.
“My four medalists are all back next year. The only thing better than having four state place winners is having four state place winners who are coming back and three state finalists coming back. That feels good,” he said.
Head coach Al Morris Walker Valley saw some pretty tough times during the three day tournament. Senior and two-time finalist Billy Raulston (182) came through as the lone survivor for the Mustangs on the final day of the grueling three day tournament.
Walker Valley finished in 11th place with 84 points.
“That aspect is disappointing, but we had Billy Raulston who is a two-time state finalist and that says something,” said Morris about the low points total and having only one Mustang in the championships.
“We concentrated on Billy in the finals and were looking for him to pull off the upset against the defending state champion who is undefeated. We were looking for a David and Goliath type thing hoping Billy would be able to slay him.”
Unfortunately for Raulston and the Mustangs Goliath, in the form of Maryville’s Chad Solomon, won the state title with a decision.
Morris is still optimistic the knowledge gained in Franklin will help the Mustangs continue to become stronger as a team and as individuals.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team and they are all going to be missed. But we saw some stuff that we feel is going to help us in the future. Just getting to the state tournament is an experience. It is a plus for any wrestler who gets here, because now they know what to expect,” said Morris.
“They understand the situation better. They understand the environment and the caliber of wrestling that goes on here. I think it will help them in preparing as the season goes along that we are actually trying to prepare them for when they get here and are not shell shocked.”
As the Walker Valley wrestling program builds more and more momentum, Morris said it is crucial to have more wrestlers in the state championship rounds.
“Of course next year we hope to have way more in the finals,” Morris said. “Drake Haney placed sixth and Zach Miller placed sixth. That is not what we were looking for, obviously they are disappointed but they achieved all-state status by placing in the state tournament. I’m proud of those guys as I’m proud of the other guys. They came here and fell short of their goals but they are great kids.”
The Best Match award went to 135-pound wrestlers Ezra Taylor of Cleveland and Sody-Daisy’s Tucker Russo. Outstanding Wrestler was awarded to the Blue Raiders’ Chris DeBien.