Heading into the 2014 GHSA state wrestling duals last weekend, Commerce head coach Kendall Love was confident that his team would be a serious contender.
“I told the guys that we have a real solid team this year,” said Love. “I knew going in that we had a good shot to make some noise down there.”
When all was said and done, the Tigers made more than noise at the Macon Centreplex – they made a statement. A dominant performance led the Commerce High School wrestling team to its first ever state duals title in Class A.
The Tigers crushed Strong Rock 72-3, then knocked off Turner County 70-7 in the semifinals on Friday.
Love expected to meet last year’s state champs Gordon Lee in the finals, but Athens Christian pulled out an upset in the semifinals, edging Gordon Lee 37-33.
“We didn’t know how good Gordon Lee was,’ added Love. “They beat us the last two years and I was truly expecting to see them in the finals. In a way, I wanted to get a shot at Gordon Lee, but I was proud for Athens Christian that they beat them.”
On Saturday, the stage was set for a final round showdown between the two Area 4-A teams. Having beaten Athens Christian at the area duals, the Tigers were confident heading into the matchup. Yet, Love made sure to tell his team not to be complacent or underestimate their opponents.
“We were familiar with them, but I was worried our guys may get a little over confident,” he said. “We had a team meeting on Saturday and I let our guys know that (Athens Christian) is for real – they have a lot of quality kids and we’ll have our hands full. We responded. I’m really proud of our guys.”
The Tiger sideline celebrated as senior Holden Nunn (195 lbs.) pinned his opponent, clinching a 48-18 win over Athens Christian and a Class A state duals championship.
For the 2014 senior class, the duals championship was a long time coming. After a string of second and third-place finishes, the Tigers finally finished at the top.
“It’s new,” said Tiger senior Greyson Cochran. “It feels great.”
Senior Morgan Flint shared Cochran’s sentiment.
“We knew who was going to match up where, and we were nervous about if some of the freshmen could do their job,” he said. “But all of them really stepped up and did everything that they were suppose to do. It feels great.”
The performance of several freshman wrestlers was key in the Tigers’ championship run. Without having each weight class filled, Commerce would have been forced to give up points due to forfeits. And while the freshmen in those spots wrestled admirably, they were quick to show appreciation for the leadership that the veteran wrestlers showcased.
“I think the seniors are a big part of our success,” said Commerce freshman Dalton Flint. “They’ve encouraged us throughout the year. This was their last year and their last chance to do it. They were definitely pushing us in the room all year, and letting us know that we had a chance to win duals this year – and that we needed to get the work done.”
“It was different,” Cochran said of stepping into a leadership role. “We used to be the ones playing around, but now we are the ones who have to set the example and make sure everyone stays on task every day.”
While a state championship is secured, the Commerce veterans and rookies both know that there is still work to be done. The Tigers will soon begin competing in traditional tournaments where focus is shifted to individual performance.
“You just have to keep working hard,” said Morgan Flint. “You can’t be just satisfied with what we’ve already done.”
“You have to stay hungry for more,” added Cochran.
Love knows his Tigers will face tough area and sectional tournaments before advancing to state. And while traditional tournaments may change some coaching strategies, Love plans on his team conducting business as usual.
“From a practice standpoint, we are just going to keep doing the same things,” said Love. “We want to get better at what we do and improve on the little things day to day. Hopefully everything else will fall into place.”
For the Commerce wrestling program, its first state duals title may just be the tip of the iceberg.
With a wealth of talent at the middle school level and younger, the program is building towards dynasty status.
“Knowing the talent we have coming up from the middle school next year – like the seniors told us this year – we can make something big happen again,” said freshman Cole Chancey.