Let’s Talk Rankings For a Minute

I am going to discussed published, recognized rankings and not Billy Bob Cooter’s personal, home cooked rankings.  I would consider Pin-TN to offer legitimate rankings if not debatable ones.  Rankings serve to make a wrestling community aware of, who the top performing wrestlers are, based largely on their result resume. Because many of us get wrapped around the idea that the actual order of a ranking is a true reflection of who is better than whom, they are also a great source of debate and discussion. If rankings done by one or several individuals actually reflected the true state of affairs then there would be no need to have regional and state tournaments. NCAA division one football is a great case study of this.  As we have seen they finally moved away from rankings and polls as a way to determine national champions precisely because this notion is false. Turns out settling it on the field is the “gold standard.” Who knew, right? The fact is that most rankings – and wrestling rankings in particular – often merely reflect one person’s opinion of who the top performers in any given area are. For the rankings to carry any weight they would have to be done by someone knowledgeable about the wrestlers being ranked. Most rely on a set of criteria in the absence of intimate first-hand knowledge about each and every wrestler considered. These criteria typically include things like
• Head–to–head outcomes
• Number of wins; win/loss percent
• Number of quality opponents wrestled (strength of schedule)
• Types of wins (close matches, flukes, Techs)
• Types of losses (see above)
• Performance at highly competitive tournaments on a local or national level
The validity of any ranking is directly proportional to how much work the ranker puts into it and I can tell you it takes an inordinate amount of research and actually observing matches to do a top-notch job at it. Just tracking who will be at what weight is a huge challenge in itself. So what do I take from any ranking, whether it be national or regional?  It depends on what I know about how the ranking is done.  Without any insight into this the only thing I can really say is that the wrestlers who are on it have accomplished enough to be recognized by the ranker. Beyond that I don’t normally put too much stock in the order other than what I can validate for myself. I can agree with it or disagree based on what I think I know but for those ranked wrestlers–whom I know nothing about–I  can only assume they have done something noteworthy to be considered. They could be overall better than some of those above them or they might not actually be deserving of any ranking. All I infer is that he or she is probably a pretty good wrestler and they’ve accomplished something to be on that ranker’s list.

With that said I want to point out that Ray Hardin and Keith Dowell have gotten on someone’s radar by their performances at Blackhorse. Ray defeated the previously #3 ranked 220 pounder from Beech (Reinert) and the #3 ranked Division two 195 pounder (Walthall) from CBHS. That earned him a four-spot on Pin-TN’s latest rankings.
220-
1. Tyler Barber (Stewarts Creek, 12)
2. Hunter Begley (Science Hill, 12)
3. Victor Bednarski (Ooltewah)
4. Raveon Harding (Arlington, 12)
5. Peyton Reinert (Beech, 12)
6. Austin Hagerman (Tennessee, 12)

Keith Dowell wrestled a great tournament and had a hard-fought win over previously ranked Dave Fairley (Bolton). This earned him a #5 ranking in Coach Hamm’s latest iteration of the rankings.
195-
1. Brett Brown (Bradley, 11)
2. Justin Johnson (Stone Memorial, 11)
3. Eric Cornelius (West Creek, 11)
4. Andre Bravo (Blackman, 12)
5. Keith Dowell (Arlington, 12)
6. Dave Fairley (Bolton, 12)

So your efforts have gotten someone’s attention. It’s a long season with a lot of wrestling to be done but for now you have earned some recognition. Kudo’s to you. Now you can wrestle with the confidence that you can wrestle with some of these boys, but also know that there are many others not on the list, who can wrestle with you, and are dying to prove it.   Congrats, but keep it in perspective.

Summer Camps

This is the time of year that some wrestlers and their parents look ahead to the summer months and think about preparing for next season.  Last year in January I sent out some information on the J. Robinson Intensive Camps and I am glad that some ended up taking advantage of it.  This year I am a little behind schedule in discussing it, but here it goes.

There are a number of reasons wrestlers attend camps:

  • To reinforce what they learned in their first year of wrestling
  • To stay on the mat because one is simply a “mat rat”
  • To make targeted off-season gains in any given area of your skill-set
  • Mom and Dad just want you off the Xbox for a few days.
  • You set goals for next year and want a camp that will help you grow as a wrestler.
  • You are very, very good and have realistic aspirations to get on the state podium or get recruited next season. You are looking for an experience to get you to that next level.

There are several camps in the Memphis area and around Tennessee that will accomplish most of these goals to an extent.  Mid-South Wrestling Club, Arlington Wrestling Club, West Tennessee Takedown Club and the Memphis Tigers Wrestling Clubs all host camps locally between May and August.  There are also numerous other camps hosted by clubs and schools around the rest of Tennessee including those at U.T. Chattanooga and the All-Results camp up at Austin Peay.  Some area high schools even run clinics all summer long for their wrestlers to improve technique in the off-season.   If you feel that any mat time is time well spent and/or you’re limited by, time, budget, or resources to travel, then one or two local camps may be all you need.   Keep in mind that some camps are technique focused with only moderate emphasis on conditioning, drilling, and live wrestling.  Intense camps are generally for the wrestlers who want to push themselves in order to make strong gains in their competitive level.  The focus here tends to be on building confidence, preparedness, and mental toughness through some combination of high intensity drilling, conditioning, and live wrestling.  They are designed to challenge the wrestler.   There are numerous intensive camps around the country.  The most popular ones are hosted by NCAA Division One wrestling programs or college coaches like J. Robinson who happens to be the head coach at Minnesota and worked under Dan Gable for some years at Iowa.  Just about every NCAA division one school with a wrestling program has technique, intensive, and team camps they host in the off-season and that includes U.T. — Chattanooga.

I was at presentation that included Wade Schalles at the NCAAs a couple of years ago.  After the presentation Ronson Marsh Jr.—who some of you may remember—and I got the chance to briefly chat with this very celebrated icon of college wrestling.   On the topic of camps he said that they can be very helpful, but one has to be careful.  Not all camps are the same.  He went on to tell us, for instance, that if you are a high schooler or an experienced youth wrestler looking to make a big jump up in competitive level, then you should go to where the best kids are going to camp, and wrestle with THEM.  The key to an intensive camp is not so much the instructor but rather the quality of the partners that you will drill and wrestle with while you are there.  For this reason he felt that some camps in top wrestling areas like New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois yield better results than those same camps in New Mexico, Alabama, or even Tennessee for that matter.  Basically his message was that to get better you should look to drill, practice, and wrestle with best wrestlers you can find; this will make you better faster.  The idea of working with elite partners to make oneself better is not a novel idea.  It is a tried and true concept that applies at the youth, high school, college, and international levels of wrestling.  J. Robinson camps are well run and nationally known so you will see good wrestlers attending  but you will find average ones from all over the country who are looking to improve.  There are other camps that aren’t as well known but are run by well-respected coaches in strong wrestling states.  If you email me or PM me on Facebook, I can share what I know about a couple of them.  You can then look into it more to see if they are for you or your wrestler.

Intensive camps are great all around experiences, but there are also camps out there that more narrowly focus on specific styles, philosophies, or approaches to wrestling like the Granby Camps.  Purler camps are also well known system camps.  Others are even more narrow in scope focusing on specific sets of techniques like those for developing your leg wrestling or top riding skills.  In determining what camp is best for you, I think it helps to look at any camp as one component of an overall strategy to get better in the off-season.  That strategy may focus on being a better wrestler from the bottom position, or a better scrambler for next year.  May be you want to be stronger in controlling ties or specifically having numerous ways to defeat the collar tie.  You may want to focus on building your strength and conditioning.   Whatever the case may be, camps can augment your off-season plan greatly and work best when you can reinforce what you learn by staying active on the mat either in organized practices, open mats, clinics, or tournaments.

State of the Region Revisited (2015)

Last year at about this time I wrote my very first post and it happened to be on the state of Region Eight after the state tournament.   So I am marking the anniversary of this blog by doing another “state of the region” one year later.  On we go…

Last year I was utterly dismayed to see Region Eight go without a single state placer.  If I recall correctly at that time we were the only region without a placer.  I knew Arlington was going to be better this year,  as did most folks around Memphis, but as I surveyed the local teams one year ago, I thought 2015  looked like another rough year for the region.  It turns out that, although my outlook grew brighter as Arlington’s season unfolded, my fears about the region were ultimately realized.  Although we did improve by one important measure in getting one sixth place finisher (thank you Nathan Enzor!), the region did more poorly than it did one year ago by just about any other measure.  First of all to give some perspective:  to assure a top-six place at state one has to either get into the championship semi-finals or fight back through the consolation rounds to make it into the consolation semis – officially consolation round 6.  Once in these rounds wrestlers will wrestle one another to sort out the final order of the top six placers.  Last year Region Eight had 7 quarterfinalists and 11 wrestlers who reached the fourth consolation round; two reached round 5 (thank you Nathan Enzor!).  None made it to the placing rounds. This year only four made the quarterfinals, and five reached the fourth consolation round; roughly half of last year’s numbers.  Only Enzor made it into round 5 again, but this time he broke through into the placing rounds on day three of the tournament.   In fact, if one really wants to pile on the region, we can look at the fact that outside of three Tigers (Enzor, Mowery, and Zarshenas) only one local wrestler made the quarterfinals.   That was Collierville’s surprise freshman, Jared Briant at 113.  Another Tiger, Will Craft, would manage to join them in the fourth consolation round.  So basically outside of Arlington, only one Collierville freshman came even close to placing at states.  Although the Tigers held their own, the region actually did worse at state this year.

I am surveying Region Eight looking for a silver lining…a reason for hope.  I think I found it.  It’s not earth shattering but it does provide me some measure of optimism for next year and the year after that.  It is simply that the region skewed younger this season compared to last.  We sent 24 seniors last year compared to only 16 this year.  Of the 40 underclassmen that qualified this season we had three freshmen region champs and 5 freshmen in all were region finalists.  Of this group only Briant made the quarterfinals, but I guess the point is that our lack of seasoned wrestlers hurt us.   So the good news is that these underclassmen anchored by this freshman group are bound to do better next year and the following one if conventional wisdom holds.  I expect that Jared Briant, Houston’s Jones twins, and Caleb Morgan will all go deeper into the state tournament next year.  I also hope that both Grayson Young (Houston) and Bryce Dodson – both region champs from last season who did not compete in the regional and state tournaments this year – return next year to bolster the our state contingent.  Based on what they did this year here are some of the more promising wrestlers who stand some chance to medal next season: (this is not a comprehensive list; just what came immediately to mind)

Caleb Morgan 106/113

Jared Briant (Coll) 113/120

Travis Arthur (Hou) 120/126

Colin Jones (Hou) 132/138

Keaton Jones (Hou) 132/138

Kris Bledsoe (Bol) 145

Mike Mowery 152

Dawson Johnson (Bart) 182

Rayveon Hardin 195

Salvador Martinez (Cor) 285

I won’t try to handicap their chances but I would say they are realistic.  A lot will depend on how they treat their respective off-seasons.   Everyone should strive to make off-season gains but for those on this list there will be more at stake.

The Regional Scene

In terms of the team outlook, I expect Houston will close the gap to Arlington more so than anyone else.  They are returning three freshmen region finalists and not graduating many seniors.  The team will be deep and will now have studs at the low to middle weights that can go with Arlington.  The Tigers will lose a lot of firepower with the departure of Zarshenas, Craft, and Enzor in particular, but they still have Morgan, Hulley, Mowery, and Hardin to anchor the lineup and they will have quality starters in Harrison Phillips, Josh Worley, Nick Taylor, Austin Baudoin, and Nathan Laub.  Aaron Moore came on strong towards the end of the season filling in at 160 and 170 while weighing closer to 149.  I expect he will make a big jump up next year to help solidify that 160 weight.  Todd Roaten, and Jack Lewis will return with more experience at 182 and 195, and newcomers Simon Knauss and Jonathan Metcalf will hopefully return to hold down 220 and heavy along with Keith Dowell.  I am also hopeful that Bryce Dodson will return to the mat next season.  If he does he will help solidify this lineup even more.  The team will be in stout shape throughout the weight order.  In fact I think next season we project to have a better dual meet team based on having a greater number of good, seasoned wrestlers in the lineup.  It remains to be seen what kind of tournament team they will be.  I am also of the opinion that the incoming freshmen who are wrestling at the youth level right now will be able to come in and provide immediate depth from 106 to 170, and there are two or three who will push for starting spots.

So looking ahead in terms of local team strength we can look at returning champs and qualifiers as reliable indicators:

Region Champs

State Qualifiers

Arlington

3

5

Houston

2

8

Cordova

1

6

Collierville

1

5

Bolton

1

5

Bartlett

0

3

**Bryce Dodson (Arl) and Grayson Young (Hou) were both returning region champions who did not compete at the regional tournament this year and are not accounted for in this table. 

On the surface it appears that Houston may have a slight edge in strength based on the numbers and that may be true, but I think numbers lie in this case.  The reason for this is the “Mowery Effect.”  For those that don’t know, this is when you have one stud that doesn’t see the mat because there is a stronger stud in front of him in the lineup.  It happened to Mike last year when he was caught behind Zarshenas at 132.  This season Harrison Phillips, and Nathan Laub could have qualified for states if they had they been starters.  And let’s not forget that Nick Taylor, who was out of commission for the last half of the season, pinned Jared Briant, the 113 region champ, at Blackhorse.   How about that Nick Taylor going out and picking up six points for us in duals with a broken neck…the kid’s tough.  OK they were forfeits…but still.

That’s a wrap for the 2014-2015 season.  It was a great one for Arlington but mediocre at best for the region as a whole.  Next year I think we will see a slight-to-moderate improvement  for the region and Arlington will be front and center once again.  I hope everyone works hard this off-season.  – Yours in Wrestling.

Odds and Ends

Thank you, Tigers

Last Saturday night the Tigers validated what felt like many years of hard work by many people who have looked to create something special going back as far as ten years.  This is certainly true of Coach Cordero who started the wrestling program in the fall of 2004, won a region duals title in 2008, and last year had to  step away from a program poised to have a breakout season.  It is also true for seniors, Reid Cacaro, Andrew Zarshenas, Will Craft, and Nathan Enzor who have toiled and strained and pushed themselves to their limits for many years to have the chance to call themselves champions as a team.  It is true of all the parents who have driven their kids thousands of miles to youth and high school competitions, borne the costs of their wrestlers’ careers, shared their emotional highs, and suffered their lows.  It is also true of the youth coaches who have invested time and energy to help lay the foundations for the molding of great young men as wrestlers and upstanding adults.   Last night the Tigers virtually validated all of us by their effort, dedication, grittiness, and commitment to the goal of being the best wrestlers they can possibly be.  Hats off to all Tiger wrestlers; not just the place winners and not just the starters.  It took the entire team.  Everyone played an important role in winning the region dual and individual championships.   Thank you one and all for being “Tiger Tough” when it counted.  There’s just one last big mountain to climb this week in Franklin…we won the AFC/NFC championship, now it’s on to the Superbowl.

Oh…and a shout out to all the parents who helped put on a great regional tournament.  I heard congratulatory comments throughout the evening about how well run the tournament was.

NCAA Championships

The NCAA championships are going to be held in March in St. Louis this year.  I highly recommend that every serious high school wrestler and youth wrestlers about to make the jump to high school make the 4-5 hour trip up Interstate 55 to watch this event at some point.  The NCAAs rotate around the country but St. Louis has been a favorite site.  As result the tournament is hosted there about every three to four years.  A few years ago I took one of our former youth wrestlers up with me, and not only did he enjoy it, but I think it had a big impact on him in terms of his approach to training and his goals in high school.  I would like to go again this year, but it remains to be seen whether I will make the trip.  If anyone is interested in going or sending their wrestler up with me should I decide to go, please let me know…or if you just have questions about attending like hotels and transportation, costs, food, …etc.  It’s a great experience of a young wrestler.

A small peak ahead:  bad news, good news

The bad news first:  we will be graduating four super seniors who will be taking many wins with them from next year’s lineup.  All were finalists at the region tournament.   Eeeesh!      The good news?  Don’t think that the Tigers are going to rebuild next year.  When the Tigers began this season they had three returning region champions and three additional state qualifiers.  Next year I project they will have three returning champions and three state qualifiers to start out again (once football gets out).   In addition you can expect a very solid group of freshmen to come in and challenge the upperclassmen for starting slots.  Coach Simpson did a great job of getting the young guys experience this season so even next year’s first-time starters will have loads of experience under their belts.  Bottom line is that I think we should expect the Tigers to be right there again challenging Houston, Cordova, and Bartlett for the region title in 2016.  Of course they will have their work cut out to match this year’s crew.

States

Last year Region VIII had zero state placers in AAA.  This year the best hopes of medals lay mostly with Arlington Tigers and a few other standouts from Houston (Arthur, 120), Bolton (Bledsoe, 145), and Cordova (Mullins,160).  No pressure.  I predict Arlington will bring home some hardware this year…another first for this special group.  No pressure…really.

***One correction:  The program will return 3 champs and 2 qualifiers; not three as I stated above.  I forgot that Trey Claus is a senior.  The returning champs from this year would be Caleb, Mike, and Ray.  The other placers would be Bailey and Jonathan Metcalf.  All this is presumptive, of course, but it serves as a reason for optimism about the future of the program.

Tiger Wrestler In Focus: Rayveon Hardin

The 2014 version of the Tiger wrestling team missed placing in the top two at the Region 8 dual team tournament last February, thus failed to qualify for the state duals championship.  It was clear to some of us back then, however, that this was a program on the rise locally.  Two weeks after that the Tigers served notice by placing third in the region “individual” tournament behind Collierville and Houston.  They ended up sending an unprecedented 8 wrestlers to the state tournament.  One of those wrestlers was sophomore, Rayveon Hardin; a fourth place finisher at 170 pounds locally who went 0-2 at states.

Jump forward to February 2015, and we find that the Tigers have dominated competition in Region 8 and finished in the top 8 at the state duals tournament this past week in Franklin, TN.   Reflecting the rise of the Tiger wrestling program over this time frame, Ray Hardin has blossomed into a regional title contender at 195 pounds and quite possibly a threat to place at states this year.  No one on this team — or the entire region for that matter — has made greater strides on the mat over the past twelve months than Ray.  During this past off-season he physically grew into the 195 pound class and so far this year has been a revelation as he has plowed through his opposition to the tune of 33 wins; 29 of which were major decisions, tech falls or pins.  To say he has come into his own is putting it mildly.

Ray has a wide open style of wrestling that’s fun to watch.  He is always working to pin when on top; relentless in that pursuit.  He has a great motor, pushing the pace constantly as he looks for takedowns and turns.  At times, against very good wrestlers, his all-out approach has cost him dearly, but it has not seemed to deter him much.  Sometimes one sees a wrestler who takes chances and is clearly confident and aggressive even against elite competition.  These wrestlers aren’t burdened by the fear of losing that either reduces the tactical options available to others or causes them to hesitate and become indecisive.  Ray seems immune – or at least highly resistant – to this type of apprehension.  This is what has made watching him on the mat this year such a delight for me.  He “brings it” every time and doesn’t shrink away from the moment.  Just this weekend at state duals, he faced three opponents from quality teams and went 3-0, winning two by pin and one by tech fall.  At the Father Ryan tournament in December he beat the number one ranked small school (A/AA) 195 pounder by a score of 6-3.  It was a great match and it showed that Ray can wrestle a good tactical match as well.

While Ray still has room to grow as a wrestler, he will be fun to follow through the next two weeks as he vies for the Region 8 title at 195 pounds and then wrestles at states.  He is not currently ranked near the top of the AAA division at his weight, but after watching him this season, I don’t see this as any indicator of what he can accomplish at the state level.  He has a very real chance to place this year.  After that, hopefully he can continue to make gains in the off season, strengthen his technique repertoire, and come back next year with yet loftier goals.  In any case I have loved watching his development and look forward to seeing him wrestle — come what may — this season and the next.

Arlington Tigers Get By Bartlett

Last night Arlington squeaked out a win against rival Bartlett before a lively crowd inside the AHS main gym.  The night provided its share of drama in large part because Arlington treated this like a BIG event.  Not only was there a ceremony recognizing its seniors prior to the matches but AHS also added a bit of flare to the night by giving intros of the home team wrestler—complete with intro music – before  each match.  The MC, Coach Andrew Sossamon, also played up the crowd when he could and they even tossed out T-shirts to fans at various points in the event.  I thought this was a nice touch.  However, it was the actual tension that developed as the score of the dual unfolded, match by match, that got the crowd into it.  It was a very good atmosphere for a wrestling dual and one I would love to see more often.  On to the actual wrestling.

Arlington went into last night confidently coming off its best finish at the Father Ryan tournament and poised to make a strong run at the region duals title.   Bartlett had other plans, it seems,  and was not intimidated by coming to Arlington to battle the best team the Tigers have matted since winning the region title in 2009.  Coach Longo predicted a close match despite his team having been handled by the Tigers in a November dual by the score of 54 to 24.  On that day Arlington won 9 of 14 matches.  It’s a long season, however, and teams change along the way; sometimes for better others for worse.  All coaches know this and Coach Longo obviously felt his team had improved in some areas and gotten healthier in others so much so that he felt confident it would be a scrap.  He turned out to be spot on in his prediction as the two teams split the matches evenly with Arlington clinching the dual on the very last match.  Going into his match with the team trailing by three points, Caleb Morgan came through with a first period win over Korbin Sanderson to seal the victory for the Tigers.  The final score was 41-37.  It was a great night for fans of both teams and it was a much needed win for AHS in the battle for seeding for the region duals and for bragging rights as the rivalry develops.  As I drove home two ideas kept recurring.

The first is that, although Arlington appears to be the strongest team as region duals approach, no team is a prohibitive favorite to win it all and on any given night any perceived advantage may be tenuous at best.  The reason for this is that even a frontrunner like Arlington has significant holes in the lineup that can be exploited as Bartlett showed us last night.  So, if we are to learn anything from the dual, it might be best not assume that we have anything “in the bag.”    Last night is what you might call a “wake up call.”

The other thing, which is related, was that the wrestlers the team counts on for wins on any given night won last night, but if the team is to win the region duals and has hopes of making any noise at states, then other wrestlers need to step it up and start wrestling like they own the mat.  Whether they do or not, they need to wrestle like it.  Tennyson Thomas and Aaron Moore did that last night, and the team has them to thank for the win as much as anyone else.  Tennyson put it on his opponent in a match in which he might have been considered a slight underdog.  Obviously Tennyson didn’t know that or didn’t care.  That is the kind of effort we need from everyone who steps on the mat wearing blue and gold.  Aaron Moore was equally impressive in his own way.  Wrestling against C.J. Cara, who is one of Bartlett’s’ better wrestlers, Aaron fought the entire match and gave up only three team points in a match which, I am sure, Bartlett was chalking up as six for them.   He gave Cara all he could handle and was in on his legs throughout the match.  I am almost tempted to say that Aaron could have won that match if he could just finish his shot attempts.  In any case my hat is off to both Aaron and Tennyson.  You showed mental toughness and came through for the team last night.   Now if we can just get others to follow suit.

Weight Winning Wrestler Losing Wrestler Arlington Bartlett
113 Matthew Bozarth (Bartlett) FORFEIT 0 6
120 Tennyson Thomas (Arlington) FALL  John Washburn (Bartlett) (Fall 1:12) 6 0
126 David Thomas (Bartlett) MD  Reid Cacaro (Arlington) (MD 10-2) 0 4
132 Andrew Zarshenas (Arlington) FALL  Sidney Smith (Bartlett) (Fall 1:45) 6 0
138 John Craft (Arlington) FALL  Benjamin Huffstetlo (Bartlett) (Fall 1:45) 6 0
145 Anthony Holley (Bartlett) FALL  Nathan Laub (Arlington) (Fall 4:31) 0 6
152 Michael Mowery (Arlington) MD  Christopher Hall (Bartlett) (MD 22-9) 5 0
160 Nathan Enzor (Arlington) FALL  Brandon Kang (Bartlett) (Fall 1:11) 6 0
170 Christian Cara (Bartlett) DEC  Aaron Moore (Arlington) (Dec 12-5) 0 3
182 Dawson Johnson (Bartlett) FALL  Alan Roaten (Arlington) (Fall 2:54) 0 6
195 Rayveon Hardin (Arlington) FALL   Parker Gingery (Bartlett) (Fall 1:32) 6 0
220 Dallas Queen (Bartlett) FALL  Trey Claus (Arlington) (Fall 0:30) 0 6
285 Emanuel Barrientos (Bartlett) FALL  Johnthan Metcalf (Arlington) (Fall 0:49) 0 6
106 Caleb Morgan (Arlington) FALL  Korbin Sanderson (Bartlett) (Fall 1:21) 6 0
Final Score 41 37

A Word or Two About The Freshmen

The heart of this year’s varsity wrestling team is made up of a strong group of senior and junior wrestlers who make the Tigers a strong favorite to win the team and individual region tournaments just a few weeks down the road.  In fact I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to make a case for the team being a top ten squad within Tennessee’s big school (AAA) division.   We will have to wait and see on that, but by most any reasonable measure this is a very good team.   It takes quality up and down the 14-man lineup to make up good squad, and Coach Simpson is getting some help from five freshman wrestlers who are logging considerable varsity mat time while contributing in some significant ways to the team’s collective success.  As a group Caleb Morgan, Nick Taylor, Harrison Phillips, Josh Worley, and Jack Lewis have so far collected 53 wins against 24 losses for the Tigers.  That is very respectable for any group of wrestlers much less a handful of freshmen.

Some of these wins have been timely and pivotal to the team’s success to date.  For example, filling in at 126 pounds this past Saturday at Slamfest in Clarksville, Harrison Phillips took a 6-5 triple overtime win from Mt. Juliet’s Austin Sparks in the team semi-final round.  Had the three team points for that win gone to Mt. Juliet, Arlington would have lost the contest by a score of 33-35.  Instead the Tigers won 36 – 32.  Given the team was down 21-26 when Phillips took the mat, the match was as clutch a win as we may see this year from the team, and certainly from Phillips.  On that same day Josh Worley filled in at 132  and came away with 2 pins in close contests against West Creek and John Overton High Schools.  Caleb Morgan also contributed two key wins this past weekend at 106 and was a finalist at Blackhorse two weeks ago.  His high finish gave the team the vital points that it needed to finish with its highest placing ever at Blackhorse.  Nick Taylor has been pressed into action all year at 120 lbs despite being a natural 113 pounder and he has held his own for the most part.  Jack Lewis’s work at 195 and 220 has also been important to the team’s success so far.

Maybe more important than any wins they get this year is the simple fact that they are getting a great deal of meaningful varsity experience as freshmen.  As a cohort they will improve each year until they anchor the team as seniors in three more years.  By then I expect they will be a formidable group; at least as formidable as today’s group of seniors.  That, to me, is the real beauty of the situation: the idea that the team can thrive now and still groom its youngest wrestlers for success in the next three years.

It is a good time to be an Arlington Wrestling fan.

It Takes a Village

AWC 10

Since its inception in 2007 Arlington Wrestling Club (AWC) has evolved from simply one coach and 25 kids to what is now a robust, 501(c) 3 organization comprised of a seven member board and a small army of volunteer parents operating out of Arlington High School.  The club puts on sporting events, clinics, and camps and supports local organizations like PTAs and other youth sports teams.  Naturally we serve as the AHS’s wrestling feeder program and operate out of the high school.  Not only have we provided the high school with great wrestlers, but we also have helped materially improve the high school program by purchasing equipment for its use including wrestling mats.  Three of the four mats currently used at the school have been bought with in some part with club money.  The newest mat that arrived a few weeks ago was bought entirely with club money.  The long term plan is to be of even greater value to Arlington by involving even more boys and girls in the youth program; developing a better support system for high school level wrestlers who wish to train beyond the scholastic season, and perhaps at some point to help student athletes on the academic side maybe providing academic awards and/or endowing scholarships.  I think we also need to look for even more ways to be more involved with the community at large.  We are at a point where we can do it, and Coach Simpson is a big proponent of community service for both the high school and youth programs.  Ultimately the goal is to be a contributing, integral part of the fabric of life in Arlington. 

For a number of reasons this vision is, to a large extent, dependent on acquiring a permanent facility with year-around access to mats.  Arlington High School has been a great host to our program, but experience has shown us that in order to grow we need year-around access to mats.  That just is not feasible at the moment with existing school activities vying for gym time and the constraints of getting access during the times of the year when the school is not staffed.  A dedicated facility either on campus or off would not just help develop our younger athletes but also serve the needs of the current high school wrestlers who wish to train in the off season.  The facility could be attractive to neighboring communities like Lakeland and Cordova which do not have youth programs for wrestling.  In the end it would be a boon for Arlington and its schools. 

I doubt the political will exists in Arlington to make something like this happen because, up until this moment, the need has not even been made known to very many folks outside of our wrestling circle.  Hopefully this blog post can be a modest start to an idea that gains momentum and eventually gathers the political will necessary to see it through.  We have several competing ideas floating around within the club and high school program about how to realize this vision.  Most involve moving into an existing building in town or a new construction either on or off campus.  It’s all brainstorming at this point.  No course has been set, but any such course would involve funding way beyond our current resources.  Fundraising and corporate support will be the engines of any progress we make towards our goal.  If you want to get involved and help in Arlington’s growth and improvement there are worse ways to do it than investing in programs that help develop our kids.   I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.  It takes a village, right?  Please feel free to contact me at ipagan@msn.com  or  AWC Head Coach Matt Caskey at Arlington_wrestling@yahoo.com.

Did The Tigers Make a Statement At Blackhorse?

The 2014 edition of Blackhorse has come and gone this weekend, and I think everyone now has a clearer indication of how things will likely shake out as the season progresses in Region 8.  The Tigers had a strong showing as the highest placing local public school behind Brother Martin, Beech Senior HS, Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA), Christian Bros, and West Creek HS.  This was the first good indicator of how the Tigers are wrestling compared to quality, out-of-area squads.  I don’t know how Coach Simpson feels about the team’s effort on Friday and Saturday, but I thought the guys competed well, for the most part, against a strong field at most of the weights.  The bad news is that we didn’t perform quite as well as Beech, MBA, CBHS, and West Creek.  The scoreboard shows us that.  We need to have the confidence that we can compete with and beat any of these teams on any given day in a dual meet or tournament.  I think we proved we can definitely compete with them, but I didn’t come away convince we are ready to step over these programs.  That’s kind of the bad news…not horrible… really.

There are a number of good things to take away from Blackhorse too, not the least of which is that the team on the mat was not the same team we hope to see by season’s end.  We are still a work in progress.  Lineup-wise Mike Mowery did not wrestle at 152 and returning region champ, Bryce Dodson has yet to see the mat in an official competition.  Both are expected to be back in the lineup soon along with Kylan Grey, who was a state qualifier last season, and has been out due to football.   This past weekend their collective presence could have translated to anywhere between another 25 to 50 points; certainly putting us right up there in the hunt with the other in-state powers.

Beyond that, I think our wrestlers left some wins out on the mat for which they’d love to have do-overs.  The good news here is that a number of the shortcomings I saw were things correctible with coaching and practice.  This leads to the next point, which is that Coach Simpson, like any good coach, wants the team to peak in February.  This means technically they are limiting errors; tactically their minds are focused in every match; physically they are in top form with big “gas tanks”, and emotionally they have the confidence to know that every match is winnable at any point.   Mentally, emotionally, tactically, technically …“Tiger Tough.”  They aren’t there yet but they are moving in the right direction and really not too far off.  Lastly we should take into account that a good portion  of our wrestlers 106 through 160 or so are wrestling up in weight class and although that is likely to continue throughout the season it will change for the individual state tournament.

I am looking forward – and so should our wrestlers, parents, and fans alike – to seeing the team progress as the Clarksville and Father Ryan tournaments approach.  These will further serve to measure our progress against teams from other parts of the state.   Arlington  did make a definitive statement to contenders in Region VIII, and we, no doubt, have the attention of the region’s perennial powerhouse down on Walnut Grove.  I think we also need to, however, send a message eastward.  I hope we are in position to send a strong one in the coming weeks.

Rankings: A List of Targets

We are now a good couple of weeks into the wrestling season, and, although it is still too early to see who is going to be a factor at each weight in the area, it has become clear to me that Arlington is the team to beat in Region VIII. No one has as much firepower through a greater range up and down the line-up. That isn’t to say the team doesn’t have problem weight classes; to be sure it does, but compared to the other local teams it has the least number of holes to plug and the heart of the line-up can more than make up for the team’s weaker weights. So long as everyone stays healthy, Coach Simpson should have a great first season and Tigers fans will have much to cheer about by the time state tournaments come around.
As we cast a look eastward to the rest of the state we might sense that our little southwest corner gets virtually no recognition by folks in and around Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Before we get our feelings hurt, however, let’s acknowledge that last year no wrestler from Region VIII placed in the top six at any weight in the AAA state tournament. We were completely shut out. Given this, it’s hard to make a credible argument for Memphis not being given a fair shake by those to the east of us. Region VIII was not very strong last year and I don’t see it any stronger this season based on the wrestling that has occurred to date. That’s a shame because until we make some noise no one is going to bother to take notice of whatever we do here in our little corner of the state. With that in mind I took a look at Coach Hamm’s rankings this past week and predictably no wrestler that has been active on the mat this season in Shelby County is listed at any weight. This might seem disconcerting to Tiger fans but I am going to offer maybe a slightly different perspective on those rankings. This is an outlook that our own wrestlers would do well to adopt, I think.
Most wrestling rankings that don’t follow a strict formula are, in the end, basically and simply opinions about whom the top wrestlers are at each weight. Kids move up and down the rankings as more information comes out (i.e. wins and losses) and the opinions get revised but it is unscientific and at best it just serves to identify the top group of wrestlers…again in someone’s or some group’s opinion. Most the wrestlers in the rankings at this point in the season are there because of how they placed at the state tournament last year . Some are there because they are simply known good wrestlers by the ranker. Arlington has some very good wrestlers this season and while none are ranked at the moment I expect that as the season progresses we will see a few of them pop up in the rankings as we face our eastern neighbors at Slamfest and the Father Ryan tournaments. The recognition is nice to have but to me the best thing about the current rankings if I am an Arlington Tiger is that it serves as a target list of the guys I need to knock off on my way up the state podium. If I am not on the list…no big deal; no target on my back. If you are on a hunt you don’t announce yourself to your prey. Well, Tigers, it’s open season on Tennessee wrestlers. Here is your target list : http://www.pin-tn.com/?page_id=223