Cleveland's Jake Yost has seen the wrestling mat from all sides as a competitor and assistant coach of the Blue Raiders. Beginning today, Yost will see the mat from a slightly different angle as head coach of the No. 2-ranked wrestling team in the state.
Yost was quick to point out the transition from assistant to head coach has been relatively seamless with former coach turned CHS athletics director Eric Phillips at his side every step of the way.
"I've been here three years, but this will the first time at the duals as a head coach. I'm excited, but it's really kind of hard to explain because it's not like Eric Phillips is gone. We still have the same coaching staff, we've just rearranged the chemistry of it a little bit, which I like," he said while waiting for the team bus to depart for Franklin Thursday afternoon.
"It was good for me. It hasn't been a huge, drastic change. It's been kind of an easy process, and it's been an easy process because the people here have made it an easy process. That has helped me out a lot."
Not only is Yost ready for the starting whistle, he said the team is ready to get the party started as well.
"They are excited ... and I think they are ready to go. We have trained this year to win this thing," he said. "We are in a good place. Most of them on the team have competed there and most them that haven't have been there with our team. Maybe they didn't compete because they were younger, but now it's their turn.
There will be 11 state-ranked Raiders on the mat hoping to lead Cleveland to a duals championship: Tristan Blansit, No. 6 (106); Chris DeBien, No. 1 (113); Austin Stevison, No. 2 (120); Austin Oliver, No. 1 (126); Haden Hamilton, No. 1 (132); Ezra Taylor, No. 3 (138); Aaron Oliver, No. 4 (145); Josh Hamilton, No. 5 (152); Aaron Lopez, No. 1 (160); Ethan West, No. 1 (182); and Oleg Stukanov, No. 4 (195).
But, with No. 1-ranked Soddy-Daisy lurking in the lower bracket, rankings will mean very little when the action starts even though the status is earned.
"This is a time when rankings don't mean anything for sure. We talk about that with our kids. Rankings don't mean anything, but at the same time they are earned. It's not like they are given. You earn your ranking. So it does mean something but you can't be satisfied with being ranked at the top of the state," Yost said. "When it comes down to it, when the tournament is over then it really does mean nothing. Because if you don't compete to the best of your ability, earning that ranking doesn't mean anything."
Ranked or not, the road to the state championship will more than likely go through the Trojans of Soddy-Daisy. The field if 16 is loaded with quality programs, but the Raiders and Trojans are the odd-on favorites to meet in Saturday's finals.
"I think for sure it is better we are on the other side of the bracket from them. Most people would say that the two top contenders are us and Soddy-Daisy," the Cleveland coach conceded. "That doesn't mean there aren't other teams that are capable of getting to the finals. But, you look at rankings, you look at last year and you look at other factors and it is safe to say those two are the favorites. It's not disrespecting anybody else, it's just saying that Cleveland and Soddy are favorites.
"I think it's good for the sport, I think it's good for us and I think it's good for the Cleveland community."
A state duals championship win over the Trojans would be a large measure of payback for the Blue Raiders, who finished second to Soddy-Daisy in 2012.
"Oh, yes. For sure," Yost said when asked if the Blue Raiders expected to win the championship. "We're going expecting to win. We do that every year. We expected to win last year and we came up a little short but we gave it every ounce of effort we had. We were happy last year, but this year we expect to win. If we go and do the right things and wrestle like we are capable of wrestling, I think it will take care of itself."