BRISTOL, Tenn. – Reece Nelson had a memorable campaign on the wrestling mats last season for Tennessee High.
“Last year was a good year, it was a really good year,” said Nelson, a Tennessee High junior, who won the Region 1-AAA title at 120 pounds, and narrowly missed placing at the state meet in Franklin. “I was happy with what I got accomplished that year, being a region champ and winning a lot of first place medals.”
He will looking for more this season, with hopes of doing one better than his brother, Trent Nelson, the second winningest wrestler in program history, who was a state runner-up for the Vikings.
“I just feel like if I win it will be bragging rights,” said Nelson, who will wrestle in the 126-pound weight class this season. “That would be something cool to do.”
Tennessee High had a terrific season a year ago, with two state champions – Dillon Pendley and Dominic Fields – and third-place finisher Logan Ferguson. Gavin Hurley and Nelson joined that trio as region champs.
Only Nelson returns from that quintet, with the Vikings opening its season tonight by entertaining Sullivan South, Happy Valley and Chilhowie at Viking Hall beginning at 6 o’clock.
“We have got about four or five kids that wrestled last year that return. None of our state medalists, they all graduated,” Tennessee High wrestling coach Tim Marshall said. “We are really young this year from that standpoint. However, we have got a team of 15 or 16 kids and I think about 11 of them are juniors. We have got about 10 new kids, coming into the spring and summer they had no experience, but they are growing. Every day it seems like they get better.”
Sophomore Perry Roller (122 pounds) and junior Tyler Fields (220) also made state meet appearances last season, while senior Ethan Martin (285) and sophomore Keith Ankers (132) are hoping to do the same in the year ahead.
“I wrestled a decent amount last year. I feel like I am going to improve a lot this year though,” Ankers said. “I want to make it to state, maybe even get close to placing in state. I like all the people on this team. We are really going to do well.”
Marshall is pleased with the consistency shown by Tennessee High over the last five years, placing in the top 10 in the state, including one runner-up finish over that span. The Vikings are also the only Region 1-AAA program to finish in the top two the last five years in a row.
“We haven’t filled all the weight classes, but for the past six years, we have been the most consistent,” said Marshall, who has helped run the Viking Wrestling Club, a feeder program for Tennessee High, since 2006. “We are the only one that has done that over the past couple of years and we have done it with 75 percent of a team every year. Our kids are efficient, the ones that are here are serious about it and they get results so it is good.”
There are 15 players on the current roster, including juniors Jerrick Juarez (110), Luke Worley (138), Cole Talbert (145), Ethan Trinkle (152) and Jadon Ketchum (160). Xander Harris (136) and Sam Weddington (216) are sophomores, while freshmen include Ethan Ball (113) and Aiden Ferrell (138). Junior Devin Rosenbaum (160) is injured and won’t return until January.
“Seriously from day to day, I just see huge improvements and they come in from one day to the next and they come to me before practice and they are asking me questions about what certain things they can do to improve,” said Marshall, who is ably assisted by Will Greening, Jon McClain, Robbie Nelson and Brad Goodman. “They are just trying to soak it all in. It is really, really fun.”
Marshall is anxious to see how they react to actual competition.
“Really a lot of these guys haven’t been in a real match by themselves out there in front of everybody,” said Marshall, who saw promising signs during a pair of preseason scrimmages. “Number one is just to let them see what it is like. It is not conference matches or anything, but just to let them experience what the match is like being out there. Figuring out what we need to work on and improve upon. Those are the big goals early.”
Wrestling isn’t for the faint of heart, or any other body part. It takes plenty of physical and mental exertion, in addition to the endurance to get through a six-minute match, which can seem like an eternity in the midst of a tussle with an opponent.
“There is a lot of instinct that comes in that you end up learning. There is a lot of technique ... It is just really about effort and heart and desire,” Marshall said. “You are out there one on one, you are using every muscle in your body. You are probably more tired than you have ever been in your lifetime sometimes in these matches.
“You are the only two people in the gym wrestling, there is nobody to blame but yourself if you get beat. On the other hand, if you win it is all your glory because you did it all.”
“It is just like being in weird positions that you haven’t been in before,” added Nelson, who is approaching 100 wins for his career. “You just have to feel comfortable there and you have to be conditioned really good. You have to kind of think ahead. You have got to think what they are doing, but you have to also work so you have control of the match.”
There will be plenty of stiff competition ahead, including the always-stacked Indian Classic at Dobyns-Bennett on Dec. 6-7, and the Vikings’ own Brawl in the Hall on Jan. 4. All eyes will be pointed toward the regional and state tournaments in February.
“The coaches help a lot with peaking, being your best at the end of the year and peaking and being your best. They are really good at that,” Nelson said. “They know what to do. Obviously I am just going to keep on doing what they are saying and working hard.”
“Obviously it matters up until that point, but that is when it really, really matters. That is when we have been able to peak...” added Marshall. “We do a pretty good job of peaking for the region tournament and it has paid off.”
If Nelson needs any extra motivation while on the mats, he can think back to the success his brother had at Tennessee High, along with what his teammates were able to do last season.
“For sure, it really does,” he said. “You just want to be as good as them and have as many accomplishments as you can. That really inspires me.”