The night local high school wrestling fans wait for all year is upon us, as Jim Smiddy Arena will host the annual Bradley Central-Cleveland High dual meet this evening.
The reigning state dual and traditional champion Blue Raiders (19-3) come in as the top-ranked public school team in a couple of state polls, while the Bears, who own 22 state championships, are 16-2 on the season and currently ranked No. 3 by Tennessee Youth Wrestling and fourth on the Luther Killian list.
Tonight’s battle will feature 15 wrestlers ranked in their respective weight division state poll — eight Raiders and seven Bears. A trio of Cleveland grapplers are rated tops in their division, while two Bradley matmen hold the same honor.
Five of this evening’s matches have the potential of state-ranked wrestlers squaring off, including a pair of battle between No. 1 and No. 3 in the two lightest weights.
Bear junior Toribio Navarro won the 106-pound state title last February and is currently the top-ranked 113-pounder and could face third-ranked Tristan Blansit. However, the Raider sophomore has been wrestling at both 113 and 120 this season and may step up to the heavier weight to face second-ranked Bradley freshman Knox Fuller.
Bear freshman Ryan McElhaney is the top man at 106, while Raider ninth-grader Colton Landers is ranked third, but has stepped up to 113 in the last two meets.
Cleveland has a back-to-back stronghold at 126 and 132 with a pair of top-ranked state champions. Junior Chris DeBein (2013) and senior Austin Stevison (2012) have claimed the last two 113-pound state crowns, but have moved up in weight to 126 and 132 respectively. Bradley sophomore Hunter Parker is ranked No. 5 at 126 and will more than likely battle one of the two.
The possible 138 matchup finds Raider junior Ezra Taylor ranked third and Bear sophomore Stephen Scott sixth in the latest state rankings.
There is a potential battle of senior state-ranked wrestlers at 170 where Cleveland’s Josh Hamilton is No. 2 and Bradley’s Nathan Adams is sixth.
A trio of state-ranked grapplers will be guarding against upsets from nonranked opponents as Raider senior Ethan West is No. 1 at 195, while junior teammate Koran Kennedy is fourth at 220. Bradley freshman Brett Brown is No. 4 in the 182-pound list.
The four weight divisions that don’t have a state-ranked wrestler competing could prove to be very key as to which team comes out on top of the annual slugfest.
While both teams have been defeated by Baylor, the No. 1 ranked private school team in the state, the Raiders’ other two losses came early in the season to Kennesaw Mountain and Gilmore in a Georgia event that took place before Cleveland had its football players in the wrestling lineup.
The Bears’ only other loss also came to a Peach State squad as powerful Archer defeated them in the championship match of the Archer Duals.
Somewhere between 1,000-1,500 fans are expected for the big battle this evening, with junior varsity matches beginning at 5:30, plus Bradley holding Senior Night ceremonies before the varsity action at 7 p.m.