It will be a serious test for both teams who have been enjoying a break from school over the holidays.
“I sometimes look at my schedule and think, ‘What was I thinking?’” Mustangs head coach Al Morris said. “This is the home match for Bradley and there weren’t too many good dates to choose from, but he (Bears coach Ben Smith) did let me pick my poison, so to speak. He is in the same dilemna I am. We have to work around basketball games and other activities. The main thing is I hope we are ready after this break. We have kids who are going to have to step up.”
The Mustangs (16-2) will be looking for their first regular-season win over the Bears (14-1) since the program first hit the mats eight years ago.
The programs have gone head-to-head once in the 2012 season — at a duals meet in Tullahoma where the Bears bested the Mustangs by two points. It was the closest Walker Valley has ever come to defeating the Bears in a dual meet.
“We already wrestled them once and got beat 38-36 in the finals of the Tullahoma duals. We each won seven matches. We had the same amount of pins and had two regular decisions and they had two major decisions, which was the difference in the match. They bumped their lineup around and we wrestled straight up,” Morris recounted. “How they will wrestle this match and how we wrestle is yet to be seen. We’ve got 14 guys who hopefully are going to step out there and give it their best.”
The Mustangs finished ahead of the Bears at the Bradley Invitational which, according to Morris, means only the Mustangs got the third-place trophy and the Bears got the fourth-place trophy — with one caveat.
“It also means,” Morris said, “our guys know now that the guys who have been the big brother on the block, we are able to compete with them. That should be something we build on. That is not our only objective (to beat Bradley). Our objective every year is to be the best we can be, to be the best team in the state. If that means beating Bradley means we are the best team in the state. then great. If it means beating Cleveland, that’s great. But it might mean beating Soddy-Daisy or it might mean beating a different team. And that is our goal. We try not to focus on just this “rivalry” that is really not a rivalry because they have been beating us all the time. We had a match or two where we felt like we gave a good effort, but we were always outmanned. We don’t feel we are as outmanned as much anymore. We feel like we are able to compete.”
After all is said and done Morris and staff have preached to the Mustangs that Thursday should be nothing more than another match against another top-quality opponent. Still, with pride on the line both teams know who the opponent is and coaches understand the possible psychological ramifications of a win or loss. In reality, both current teams have won the same number of state championships. Whether or not that will play into which team loses and which one wins remains to be seen.
“To be truthful this match, for Bradley or us, is just for bragging rights. It really doesn’t have much affect on anything as far as the state duals because they are in a different district than we are. Of course, every time we step on the mat just like they do, with every opponent, you want to beat them. We know who they are. They know who we are. We’re kind of to the point where we are able to compete with them,” Morris said of his team. “In the past they knew they could walk out there and pretty much be Bradley. And I’m not taking anything away from their team, but the team we have now is a much better team from top to bottom that we’ve had, so we are able to compete.
“I’ve seen that program from the very first days of its existence. The last 20 years or so they have one of the most phenomenal win streaks at home as any team ever has. They don’t lose at home very often. But again, we can’t dwell on that either, because all those teams are already gone. I’ve got a new team and they’ve got a new team. I don’t tell my team anything about that kind of stuff. We go out there knowing who we have to wrestle and what we have to do. But, I’m aware of it for sure.”
With bragging rights on the line, Morris expects the Mustangs to give nothing less than their best effort knowing that is exactly what the Bears will bring. He went on to say win or lose, when the last match is decided Thursday, Friday and Saturday will bring new challenges for Walker Valley.
“Regardless of how Bradley presents their lineup we are going to give it our best. We are going to go out there and fight. In our minds we expect to win just like I’m sure Bradley expects to win. When it’s said and done we are going to move on because the next day Walker Valley wrestles Cordova and Cookeville at Cleveland and the day after that we have the Soddy tournament. It just keeps getting tougher. That is what is going to help prepare us for February, when where we finish and how Bradley finishes is going to be more important,” said Morris.