But win or not, head coach Eric Phillips said the Blue Raiders are already winners.
“We had a pep rally last Friday and two different teachers came up and said, “Coach, I just want you to know I love having wrestlers in my class because they are such leaders. They are such gentlemen. They do the right thing. It is a joy to have your wrestlers in our class,” said a proud Phillips.
“At the end of the day we are trying to win, but there is so much more than championships in the end. These kids and my coaches are all already winners. From Jake Yost to Al Miller to Carlos Thompson, Duane Shriver, my club coach Josh Bosken, all the way to the sort of volunteer coaches such as Mary Charles Blair and B.R. Blair. They do such an incredible job of molding our kids into wrestlers. But, also demonstrating a demanding high level of character. I’m proud of my staff as well, and our supporting cast,” he continued. “When I hear teachers bragging about my wrestlers it makes me, regardless of what happens on the mat, say, “You know what Lord? Thank you for putting me in this position. And I’m grateful to my wrestlers for being such quality guys.”
As proud as he is of his guys, Phillips is well aware being high-quality gentlemen will not be enough to bring home the championship trophy. What is the secret to winning the tournament?
“Just wrestle hard. We just need to wrestle hard, believe in what we do and just fight for our right to be the best we can,” said Phillips. “That’s all we can do every day. We do it in wrestling. We do it in class. We fight to try to be great. We do that and whatever shakes out, we will be satisfied.”
The coach said the team has not changed much at all as far as putting in anything new for the upcoming conflict. Practice has been good and the best thing the Raiders can do is take their intensity to a new level.
“[Tuesday’s] practice was the best practice we’ve had all year. We probably went an hour and 10 minutes. We have cut way back and are not going as long, to cut down on the chance of injury. The longer you are on the mat, the more chance you have of getting injured. But, we have ramped it up to go as hard as we can go. I put 60 minutes on the clock and told them I wanted to be done in 60,” he said.
Phillips laughingly admitted he is not good with “country slang” when it comes to the hay being in the barn and the like. He chose instead to use a familiar Miami phrase. “The boat is in the water,” he said. “They pretty much know what they need to do now.”
The coach admitted, however, the Raiders are in no position to stop training as hard as they can in preparation for their upcoming battle for the state duals title. “At the end of the day, a wrestling match is a fight,” he explained. “You can’t fake a fight. The only way to really train for a fight is to fight. I try to boil as much intensity and as much legalized fight as we can into about an hour.”
The coach said Wednesday’s session was used to go over a few possible trouble spots or “kinks,” as he calls them.
When the Blue Raiders pile off the bus at their hotel, the coaches expect to see a healthy group emerge ready for action.
“I think we are in pretty good shape. I think we are in as good of shape as anybody else. Everybody has a little bit of sniffles or little bit of being dinged up here and there. But, unless something crazy happens, we are going to go up there pretty healthy.”
In the eyes of the wrestling community, the Blue Raiders and the Soddy-Daisy Trojans are the odds-on favorites to meet Saturday evening for the state championship title. But, before a space is cleared in the Cleveland trophy case, the Raiders must concern themselves with the small matter of some other wrestling powerhouse in the form of Blackman or Ravenwood.
“Blackman is a formidable opponent and they wrestle hard. They wrestle tough and if we don’t wrestle those guys they could beat us,” said the coach. “Then, we turn around and there is Ravenwood, who — not by my estimation, but everyone considers the third-best team in the state. We’re taking a tough road to get to the finals if we can get there.”
Phillips went on to say he has not talked to his team about the possible meeting with the Trojans. Phillips instead prefers to concentrate on the tasks at hand starting with Blackman on Friday evening.
“We have a lot of work to do before we can get to Soddy or even think about Soddy. There is Blackman and Ravenwood and more than likely Science Hill in the semifinals, if we get there. Those are three programs that compete hard. We are definitely taking the hard road,” said Phillips.
Even with a long, tough schedule of wrestling ahead of them, Phillips maintained his Blue Raiders are ready to get going. Even with Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice the coach said his wrestlers are more or less as prepared as they are going to be.
“If I could put them on a bus, get them over there and wrestle tonight I’d say let’s do it,” he said. “I’m not making any crazy predictions, but we are not going to be any more ready on Friday than we are today. We are not going to work any new magic tricks. We are not going to learn any new Indian rolls. We are doing what we do. We are going up there and nothing is going to change between now and Friday as far as any technique or preparation.”
Phillips is not one to make bold predictions about the outcome of this weekend brawl in Franklin. He is, however, confident his Raiders, if they wrestle up to their capabilities and remain focused, can be successful.
“If we wrestle the way we are capable of wrestling with the heart and toughness I think we will, we are a tough team to beat. We are a tough team to beat for anybody. I know Soddy whipped us real good and I know Ravenwood can, I know Blackman can and I know Science Hill can. It’s like in any sport, you have to bring it.
“But, if we bring it and we wrestle to the best of our abilities we are a real good team. That is all I can really say,” said Phillips with a quiet confidence in the capabilities of his team.