“There’s no secrets. We know what they are going to bring. They know what we have,” declared Smith after having watched the Mustang program since its inception. “They are very well coached by coaches (Alan) Morris, (Adam) Rains and (Bryant) Blackmon and will come in ready to wrestle.”
“They stepped in and took a good swing at us in the Tullahoma (Duals) final. I expect nothing less from them this time,” coach Smith said in reference to the narrow 38-36 Bear victory last month with a dual tournament championship on the line.
The two-point difference was the closest the Mustangs have ever come to beating the perennial powerhouse Bradley program and shows just how far Walker Valley has progressed.
Both teams come into tomorrow night’s clash with a Top 10 ranking in the latest Tennessee Wrestling Federation state poll. The Bears are 14-1 on the season and ranked fifth, while the 16-2 Mustangs are listed eighth. Bradley’s lone loss came to fourth-ranked Maryville Heritage, while Walker Valley’s only defeat, other than to the Bears, was to defending state champion Soddy-Daisy.
Bradley comes into Thursday’s battle with four ranked wrestlers — Toribio Navarro (second at 106), Dyer Rose (third at 113), Dakota Ream (fourth at 126) and Robbie Clark (fifth at 160) — while Walker Valley has three — top-ranked Caleb Langford (138), Billy Raulston (third at 195) and Tyrus Hamrick (fifth at 132).
Six of the seven state-ranked wrestlers won by pin when the teams last met, while Hamrick fought off a tough 5-2 challenge from Taylor Kazy.
With the Tullahoma title tilt starting at 285, the Bears posted four pins (Jerry Johnson, Navarro, Rose, Ream) and a Dakota Bromley major decision in the first five matches, before Hamrick turned the tide, leading to four straight Mustang wins. After Bradley got a major decision from James Goins at 160 and Clark stepped up for a pin at 170 to secure the win, Walker Valley did all it could do with pins from John Hayes (182) and Raulston before getting a forfeit to close the meet.
When the teams met in the regular season last January, they split the first 10 matches putting the Mustangs up by two points before the Bears closed out the meet with pins from state champion Patrick Benson, Navarro, Ream and a 10-0 major decision from Bromley to take a 44-24 win.
“They are a scary team. They match up well with us,” expressed Smith of the northern neighbors. “We had to do a little bumping up to help us get the win last time. We may have to do it again.”
“They are capable of pinning us up top (the heavier weights), so we need to avoid that, plus we are expecting them to have maybe a couple of new wrestlers in their lineup that may cause us some problems,” related coach Smith.
Bradley may also have some new faces on the mat as a pair of holiday challenge matches have come down to a third match after the competitors split the first two.
“It’s no secret we aren’t the dominant state championship teams of years past and they are much improved, but they still have to come to our place, under our light, and that’s still a tall order,” the Bear mentor remarked.
“Coach Rains is like a brother to me. Coach Blackmon and I are very competitive with each other. I have a lot of respect for coach Morris, so I love competing against them,” coach Smith related. “There’s no doubt, we’re in for a fight.”
The varsity matches will begin at 7 p.m., with junior varsity to begin at 6 Thursday evening in what is expected to be a packed Smiddy Arena.