Road to ’21 state tournament narrows to region finalists

By Maurice Patton

It’s understandable that the upcoming Class AAA state wrestling tournament field has been trimmed from 32 to 16 qualifiers per weight class, in light of the ongoing pandemic.

That doesn’t mean folks have to like it, though.

And in Region 7, where some particularly tough competition will result in quality wrestlers not advancing to the biggest stage, the understandable decision isn’t going over so well.

At 113 pounds, McGavock senior Chris Calvin, Summit freshman Jarvis Little and Franklin junior Owen Gobel are the top three seeds for this weekend’s tournament, which begins Friday at Independence. Calvin is a three-time state medalist, Gobel medaled a year ago and Little was a key contributor for a Spartan squad that placed third at last weekend’s state duals.

All have been in or near the state rankings this season for their weight class.

One won’t make it to Chattanooga.

“I think all three could do damage at the state tournament,” Summit coach Pete Miller said.

In an effort to somewhat address that concern, Region 7 will wrestle for a “true second” place: If the runner-up and the third-place wrestler in a particular weight class have not faced each other by the time those places have been determined, they will meet head-to-head for second place and a trip to the state tourney.

“Let’s send the best two,” Miller said. “If we have the ability to send the true top two, let’s send the top two. I’m all for it.”

As the region tournament is set to start Friday at 5:30 p.m., Summit boasts four top seeds, as does neighboring host Independence. The Spartans also have five wrestlers seeded second and a total of 12 top-four seeds.

“If we were taking the top four, I think we could get all 14 through,” Miller said. “We’ve got nine top-two seeds; now we’ve got to go prove ourselves. Our No. 1s have targets on their backs, and our No. 2s have goals to reach. We’re on a mission. I want 14 champions.”

Jackson Masters (120), Landon Desselle (132), Austin Noll (138) and Ryan Smith (285) are Summit’s top seeds. Independence features Russell Ford (106), Timothy Ford (126), Tanner Willett (160) and Gabriel Hall (182) as No. 1s heading into the 19-team event.

At the other end of the spectrum, Spring Hill has battled through three COVID shutdowns this season – “about two weeks each”, said Raiders coach Beau Moss – and is taking eight wrestlers into the weekend.

Among his unseeded competitors, Moss expects senior Isaiah Brooks at 120 and sophomores Kevin Caraballo (126) and Cayden Buchanan (182) to have the best chances at becoming the program’s third state qualifier in its four seasons.

“Cayden went out about midway through December; he’s been really strong since he’s come back,” Moss said. “Kevin is one of our top cross country runners. He’s been wrestling ’38 all year but his weight descension lets him go to ’26. He’s having a tough time getting down, but he’s going to get down to where he belongs. Isaiah’s got a shot.

“We missed (regular-season) tournaments because of COVID. We had a lot of guys that had trouble getting seeded because of seeding criteria. We could have sat home and hung it up, but we don’t want to teach kids to do that. We want to keep pushing on.”

Tournament action will resume at 10 a.m. Saturday, with championship finals to begin at approximately 4 p.m.

In Region 5-AAA Saturday at Warren County, Columbia Central will have Tay Cofer (152), Nathan Neely (160), Jeremy Bendermon (170) and Jaylen McCoy (220) competing to advance to state tournament competition. Wrestling is expected to begin at approximately 9:30 a.m.

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