After a long day of wrestling, Cleveland coach Eric Phillips headed back into the Raider Dome for one final match, disappointed his Blue Raiders were not one of the final two teams.
The Raiders had wrestled well all day only to watch Soddy-Daisy head to the final against Collins Hill. Cleveland picked up wins over Rome, Ga., 53-20, Franklin, 52-11 and in a heated battle, won a big victory over perennial power Christian Brothers, from Memphis, 35-24.
The day started with 16 teams, in four pools, from across Tennessee and Georgia filling the Raider Dome at Cleveland High School and the Jones Wrestling Center. The teams wrestled three pool matches to determine which four would wrestle in the semifinals and final match. Along with Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy, Collins Hill and Christian Brothers made it to the final four. Collins Hill was the eventual winner, 42-24 over Soddy-Daisy.
The Walker Valley Mustangs suffered losses in all four appearances in the duals, leaving head coach Al Morris formulating a return to basics in an effort to find a spark to the season.
“My thoughts are, I can’t wait until we get back into the practice room. We have so much to work on,” said Morris. “That is the only place we are going to be able to fix a lot of stuff. I will say the last match against Parkview, we actually did a lot better job of fighting and getting after it. We still have the mistakes and we need to work on fixing them.”
Morris said it isn’t exactly back to square one but a return to fundamentals is in store for the Mustangs.
“We are going to focus on basics, technique. We try to do a little too much and we forget the basics. That’s what it takes to win. I tell them if they can’t do the little things they will never get the big things done. That is something we are going to concentrate on. We learned a little too much today,” Morris said with a slight grin. “We know we can fix some things. I hate it we are not a little further along than we are. The good thing is, the tournaments that really matter are at the end of the season and we still have plenty of wrestling left and plenty of practices to get better.”
In one of the most electric matches of the tournament, the Blue Raiders-Purple Wave matchup brought the crowd to its feet more than once.
“They (Christian Brothers) have great kids. It was a great match. That’s why we have those guys here,” said Phillips.
The highly anticipated 140-pound match between sophomores Aaron Lopez and Caleb Baker did not disappoint.
“They are considered to be the best sophomores around,” said Phillips who asked Lopez right before the match if he wanted to wrestle at 140 or 145 pounds. “I told him it was better for the team for him to wrestle 145 — if he lost we would probably lose the match. He said, ‘I want to wrestle this kid.’ I told him to go get him.”
Phillips’ fear of losing the match because of the decision proved to be unfounded as Lopez held Baker to no points to win 4-0. The Purple Wave was penalized one point after the match for unsportsmanlike conduct when Baker’s emotions got the best of him after the hard-fought contest.
The win was the turning point in the match according to the Cleveland coach.
“He beat the kid and I think it sort of sparked our team. Then Jesse Jones came alive at 189,” Phillips recalled. “That clinched it.”
Jones’ pin with 32 second left in the match tied the score at 24-24 and set up the clincher for Seth Snyder at 215. Snyder’s four-point win combined with Christian Brothers’ lost penalty point put the Raiders in a position to win by a single point even if the Purple Wave pulled off a pin in the final match. They didn’t get it and the Raiders notched the 35-24 victory.
“He (Snyder) and Jesse both have been slow to get back to wrestling shape. We start with such a tough schedule. They haven’t had any kids to work themselves into shape on. They have had to wrestle studs,” explained the Cleveland coach. “I think the last two matches, those two have started to look like they did last year.”
The Raiders jubilance was short lived, however. In their fourth battle of the very long day, the Blue Raiders succumbed to yet another perpetual wrestling powerhouse in the Soddy-Daisy Trojans, 36-25.
“We have a long way to go. We have some major areas of weakness that only get exploited when you wrestle great teams. We wrestled Franklin, Father Ryan, Christian Brothers, Soddy-Daisy, Ooltewah and McCallie. We are wrestling some absolute Bears and we beat them all except for Soddy,” said a disappointed Phillips. “As I look at the match with Soddy, I like my team. I like my team. A Couple of things are going awkwardly, however. Some things are not going our way. But I have so much right now that I see that we have to do.”
Although the loss was a disheartening way to end the Weekend, Phillips stayed steadfastly confident in the ability of his team to recover quickly, learn from their mistakes and move forward toward the ultimate goal of a state championship.
“I think this team can do something special. I don’t want to beat Soddy now as much as I want to beat them when it matters. It would have been nice to beat them but they beat us fair and square. They are a great team. But I like my team. We got caught in one match where we were up 6-0 and just got caught. That’s not an excuse at all. They got caught in a match too,” said Phillips. “I see some areas we need to work on and I’m so glad we are getting to wrestle Soddy-Daisy because they have some unconventional kids that do some awkward things. You can’t really prepare for that unless you wrestle that. I see some things I think we are really going to be able to turn around. I think it’s going to go real well for us in he future.”
The Raiders, according to Phillips, will take the lesson learned from the tournament and turn them into even more positives for the future. Phillips reiterated the quality opponents faced by the Raiders will only serve as building blocks toward a strong future for the program.
“We learned some unbelievable lessons this weekend. Our team is pretty young. To be able to wrestle so many quality teams with different styles is a huge positive experience for us,” he said. “We are going against some bear dogs and writing down some serious things that are being exploited. We will come back and put the guys in those situations. And like I said, I just love where my team is going. We are getting some great matches and they are fighting. This weekend we wrestled much better than last weekend. We are all beat up and tired but so is everybody out there wrestling right now.”