The Greenback School Cherokees wrestling team officially kicked off the 2019-20 season Thursday with a close loss to the William Blount High School Governors during an in-school match.
“We just got started because of football,” Ben Ward, Greenback head wrestling coach, said. “I had to wait until the football team got done playing in the state tournament, so we’ve only been practicing for a week. We’ve got a young team. We’ve got more guys out this year than we’ve had, so I’m encouraged by that, but most of our guys are eighth-graders and freshmen. I’m really impressed with how they wrestled today against a bigger school. Our young guys wrestled hard with determination. They didn’t quit.”
Sophomores Winston Ward and Austin Hamilton advanced to the state tournament last year and return as team captains. Both had strong first showings against the Governors.
“I think we did pretty good, considering we only had one week of practice,” Winston said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys and just three or four guys from last year, so I think we did pretty good.”
“We did great ... I didn’t win, but I did really well,” Hamilton added. “I know what I need to work on in practice. The coaches, they know what we need to work on more, so we’re really finding out what we need to do as the season goes on.”
Ben Ward believes Winston and Hamilton will have another opportunity to return to the state level.
“They’re going to be our leaders, they’re going lead the team,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of juniors and this is their first year wrestling, so once they get understanding the score and everything a little bit, I expect them to be good contributors as well. I think if our young guys come along like I expect them to, then I expect some of them to advance to the state tournament. If we can get the right breaks, a couple of them can compete for medals.”
Ben Ward is replacing Tiger McCord as head coach after McCord took the head coaching position at Alcoa High School. He served as an assistant the last several years but also has head coaching experience.
The biggest challenge so far has been getting athletes in shape for wrestling.
“Right now, we’re just working on conditioning because football is an aggressive sport and conditioning sport ... but wrestling, you go for two minutes,” he said. “The big step from football to wrestling is cardio, so that’s what we’ve been focusing on this past week is getting ourselves in wrestling shape. We probably won’t get there until after Christmas break, but after Christmas break is when I expect us to make a difference.”
The Cherokees will return after the break for a match Jan. 4 at Maryville High School.