Two weeks ago, Tiger head wrestling coach Kendall Love had an announcement to make at practice. Due to inclement weather, the GHSA State Traditional Wrestling Tournament was forced to reschedule and relocate as six different tournaments by classification.
When Love announced that Commerce would be hosting the Class A tournament, the room filled with grins.
Just the opportunity to win a state title in front of their home crowd had the Tigers giddy. And on Saturday, in front of a packed Tiger gym with hundreds of screaming fans, the Commerce wrestling team made history as it completed “the sweep” – adding the state Class A traditional title to its duals state title earned back in February.
“We had been preparing for this for some time,” said Love. “I had no doubt they would go out and perform.”
The Tigers did just that. Five Commerce High School wrestlers won individual state titles in their respective weight classes, while seven others finished as top-six medalists.
If the Tigers were under any pressure to perform at home, they certainly didn’t let it affect them.
“You always have to worry about how your kids will react hosting the state tournament in your home gym,” said Love. “They came out and responded really well, came out and wrestled really tough. I was proud of them. It’s great for them to win a state championship at home.”
Freshmen Dalton Flint (106-pounds) and Austin Brock (120) both earned titles in their very first state traditional tournament appearances. Junior Trent Reddish won the 160-pound division final by a 4-2 decision. Greyson Cochran (170) earned his first state title, while senior Chance McClure (220) notched his fourth straight championship.
Mitchell Patton (113), Jake Tate (145) and Morgan Flint (195) all finished as state champion runners up. Michael Patton (132) and Tyreke Wiggins (1532) finished third. Cole Chancey took fourth in the 138-pound division, while Dontavious Mosley finished fifth in the 182-pound weight class.
For Cochran, a state title had been a long time coming. Cochran had come close in previous years, but finally got over the hump on Saturday.
“After finishing second last year, the coaches told me not put my head down,” said Cochran. “I knew I had to keep working. It felt great to finally get a title – individual and team – especially in my senior year in front of our friends and families.”
McClure is no stranger to the championship podium, but his fourth consecutive and final state tournament felt a little different for him.
McClure said his first title as a freshman was a “shock” and unexpected. Ever since, the University of Virginia commit was undefeated and practically expected to win every match. His titles in 2012 and 2013 were almost anticlimactic. But the home audience made his final match special.
“This year, I got to walk down the stairs in front of the home crowd,” said McClure. “It was a really good feeling to see everyone in the audience and to be in the spotlight.”
When McClure pinned his final opponent in under a minute, the crowd exploded in cheers. As the final Tiger to wrestle on Saturday, his victory solidified Commerce with a 222.5 point total, leaving behind second-place Gordon Lee (131.5) and third-place Athens Christian (129).
McClure had won individual titles every year of his high school career, but two team titles made this season special.
“My class really started the youth wrestling here at Commerce,” said McClure. “For (the sweep) to happen my senior year was special. It’s great to go out winning all three (titles).”
Commerce has gradually become a year-in and year-out contender in Class A wrestling. And Love attributes much of the program’s success in past years to his senior starters (McClure, Cochran, Flint and Tate).
“All of our seniors will be missed,” said Love. “They are the type of kids you can build a program around. They were younger kids – middle schoolers — when I came over to Commerce, and I recognized really quick that they had the work ethic and dedication to the sport that we can build around.”
And while the graduating talent will be hard to replace, Love feels confident that his program, six-years-in-the-making, will continue to produce quality wrestlers.
“We have built this thing from the ground level up,” he said. “My assistant coach Forrest Garner and middle school coach David Nichols have done a great job in helping build this thing. Rick Flint and the other USA coaches have done an awesome job as well.
We started the USA program seven years ago when I came here, and now they are starting to filter in to the varsity level,” added Love. “That’s huge. I think we are at a point now where every year we’ll be getting several kids with a ton of experience. That will be important in trying to repeat as a state championship contender year after year.”
The 2013-2014 season was indeed historic for Commerce High School. The Tigers won their first-ever duals title, secured their first-ever sweep of both state titles and boasted the most individual state champs and medalists in the history of the school. On top of that, Commerce hosted a successful state tournament – but not without the help of community volunteers.
“As a coach, you like hosting things,” said Love. “However there is a lot more to worry about other than just coaching your kids – as far as organizing and administrating the tournament is concerned. Fortunately for us, we had a great group of volunteers who took those worries away. Rick and Amy Flint did a great job of organizing the event and took a huge pressure off of myself and coach Garner where we could just concentrate on coaching.”