Greenback wrestling team makes history

Greenback School’s Garrett Shockley, left, and Austin Hamilton prepare to face off Thursday during practice.

The Greenback School Cherokees wrestling team continues to build momentum and is peaking at the right time with the Region 2A-AA tournament at the end of the month.

Greenback head wrestling coach Ben Ward did not expect his team of eighth- and ninth-graders to perform as well as they have this season.

“Great, better than I expected at the beginning of the year, knowing that we’re so young, a lot of first-year kids coming out,” he said. “They have totally bought into what we’re doing and practicing hard every day, getting better every day and getting mat time. That’s big for young wrestlers and we’re doing that.”

The Cherokees made history Jan. 9 after defeating longtime rival Grace Christian Academy 42-34 for the first time in a decade.

“I’ve been coaching for eight years now total and Grace is like our biggest rival,” Ward said. “We’ve had some close matches with them in the past, but we’ve never been able to get over that hump — this year we were able to do that. I wasn’t totally expecting it, we had some upsets, things I didn’t expect to happen so a little luck goes a long ways to help you be successful. We experienced that, but our guys wrestled really tough. Like I said at the beginning of the year, we’re a really young team and we’re progressing a lot faster than I anticipated, so that’s a good sign for the future especially. I don’t expect us to make huge splashes at the state tournament this year, but in the years to come, it’s a good sign for our program.”

Eighth-graders Cory Manuel and Darren Ward pulled off big upsets in the 106- and 113-pound classes, respectively.

This is Manuel’s first year wrestling, but he has quickly learned the ropes and is competing at a high level in his weight class.

“Yeah, I went in and, of course, I was nervous at the beginning,” Manuel said. “I listened to my coaches and got the win. I mean, it’s tough but you’ve just got to push through it. It was our first home match, so it brought my confidence up a lot. It let me know, ‘Hey, you can push through anything if you push through that’.”

“I wasn’t our expecting our 106 or our 113 to win in the fashion that they did — both of them won by pin,” Ben said. “As a coach, you sit down, strategize before the match and you look at the matchups and try to figure out what gives you the best opportunity to win, and those were not two weight classes I was counting on winning. Not only did we win them, but both guys pinned them so that was a 24-point swing right there, so that’s what made the difference in the match.”

The Cherokees competed again Jan. 11 at the Chattanooga Super Duals at Upperman High School, where the team finished 4-1 with wins over Brainerd (60-0), Sale Creek (48-3), Tyner Academy (54-6) and Chattanooga Central (36-24).

“We were successful, but we did lose to Hixson, who is the perennial power down there in Chattanooga. They’ll finish high in the state tournament,” Ben said. “If I had to go back and do it all over again, I would’ve wrestled them last, but we wrestled them first and started out at 106, and they’ve kind of got destroyed and that kind of got in everybody else’s head. I believe if we would’ve had success early and then wrestled Hixson, we wouldn’t have beat Hixson, but we would’ve given them a better match.”

Sophomore captain Winston Ward said there were some challenges wrestling in Chattanooga but came away with valuable experience against stronger competition.

“They’ve got a whole different style of wrestling, I mean, they’re really aggressive and are all strong,” he said. “They know what they’re doing, but it was a lot of fun, for me at least. All of the teams, we were all pretty set. It’s been going really, really good for me, and the team has really been developing as one. Last year wasn’t as good, everyone was out for individuals, but this year it’s truly a team.”

The Cherokees are expected to place high in the Region 2 A-AA tournament Jan. 30 at Upperman High School.

“The teams that are in our region are Alcoa, Upperman, Livingston Academy, Cumberland County and us, and I look for us to be competitive,” Ben said. “I don’t think we can beat Alcoa on paper, unless something happens like it did at Grace, we get lucky, something goes different than I expect it, which it can which is why we wrestle, but Alcoa, they’re tough. We should compete for second, and I think we have real strong shot at finishing runner-up. That’s great for having a team full of eighth- and ninth-graders.”