When Matt Turner took over the wrestling program for the second time in 2017, he knew it would be a rebuilding process. Construction may be complete after two years.
At last week’s region wrestling media day, Turner didn’t lack for confidence in his roster and their ability to compete for titles.
“Last year we were the district runner-up. This year, we would like to be district champs,” said Turner. “We want to put Warren County in the state duels.”
Led by returning state qualifier Ike Gillentine and last year’s freshman of the year Caleb Mackie, Warren County is stocked with talent. Even more promising, there are plenty of athletes up and down the roster to make sure the Pioneers fill every weight class.
“We should have a full lineup, which was not the case two years ago. We have better numbers than ever before,” said Turner. “We have to fill 2-3 spots, but we have new wrestlers ready to step into their spots.
“We have a handful of wrestlers who should compete for state bids.”
Warren County has plenty of reason to be optimistic, but the path to the title won’t be easy. Tullahoma won the district last year, and coach Al Morris believes his team has all the tools to repeat, saying, “I think we’ll win our district.”
On the region level, Blackman returns as region champ. Coach Ronnie Bray wants to keep it that way.
“We never want to fall off. We want to repeat,” said Bray.
Helping the cause for the Blaze is the return of Brooks Sacharczyk, who finished second in the state at 182 pounds. Sacharczyk stood in Gillentine’s path to a region title last year, winning the matchup in the region final by 6-2 decision.
Cookeville should also be stiff competition for the Pioneers, especially with a stable of experienced wrestlers ready to hit the mat.
“We should have 30-40 guys with experience,” said Cookeville coach Scott Cook. “I’m happy with what we have coming back and anxious to see the 14 who come to the top.”
While the competition is always fierce when the teams clash in the winter, the coaches are all close off the mat. The bond was evident at media day.
“The coaches are wonderful. If I had questions, they would help. I couldn’t ask for a better region,” said second-year Shelbyville coach Justin Barum.
Cook agreed, though he acknowledged the friendships fuel the fire.
“It’s what makes it fun. We have great relationships, which makes me want to beat them even more.”
Another common theme from the region media day was the focus on building girls wrestling.
Tullahoma has a leg up on the competition on the girls side with five state qualifiers returning. Coach Jenna Morris believes the tide is changing because girls are showing they’re more than capable to excel in the sport.
“The demeanor has changed. Coaches are seeing the girls’ determination,” said Morrison.
Siegel coach Donovan Freeman mentioned his “girls program is taking off,” while new Franklin County coach Jack Gallagher is focusing on building a fully stocked girls team in the next five years – an ambitious goal considering his program just purchased scales and got two new mats.
Turner is no stranger to dominant girl wrestlers, having watched Allison Franco medal in each of the last three state events. Franco graduated in the spring, but her younger sister – Kieven Franco – joins the team this winter after winning the state competition at WCMS last year.