The Hilltoppers are ranked second among public schools in the Tennessee High School wrestling poll, and Coach Jimmy Miller says his team works for everything it gets. That’s just the way he likes it.
“We’re ranked high, but our kids are just kids, blue-collar kids,” Miller said Monday. “They work hard. We may not have the best talent across the state, but our kids are going to outwork other kids.”
The Hilltoppers are 9-1 and coming off a fourth-place finish in the Cleveland Duals, a meet that boasted nine teams ranked in the state poll.
Among the wins in Cleveland were a 32-31 decision over defending state champion and third-ranked Bradley Central, a 31-30 victory over Baylor, ranked No. 3 in Division II, and a 49-18 thrashing of Knox Halls, ranked sixth among public schools. The Hilltoppers’ only loss was a 36-21 setback to Christian Brothers, ranked second in Division II.
“It was a rough weekend, a bloodbath down there,” Miller said. “You’re banging with a lot of good teams, battling for every point you get. There’s no rounds off, no easy matches. Our schedule is tough and we’re going to keep putting our kids in bad situations and see how we respond. We keep challenging them each and every week.”
On Monday, a day before a home meet with Jefferson County and Lee County, Virginia, Miller took his wrestlers into the film room to watch their matches from the weekend. Then it was into the gym to get things corrected.
“We keep working to get better,” Miller said. “The weekend was tough. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if our kids could handle five tough matches. I keep challenging them and they keep proving me wrong.”
Peaking at the right time is the key, but that’s not as easy as it sounds in such a physically and mentally demanding sport.
“That’s a hard one to pin down,” Miller said. “We have to really work hard on getting better each and every week, knowing there is room for us to get better, room to grow. We have to figure out how to be the best we can be in February, pray we stay healthy and take a shot at this thing and see what happens.”
The Hilltoppers have six wrestlers ranked among the top 10 in the state at their respective weight classes. The latest rankings came out Monday.
It all starts with Arthur James, who is ranked No. 1 in the state at 145 pounds. James, who made the semifinals in the state tournament last year, is 15-3 so far this season.
Chase Diehl is ranked second at 160 with a 17-0 record, while Tyler Seeley (19-1) is third at 120. Freshman Braxton Mann (11-2) is fourth at 113, Luke Story (20-1) is fifth at 138 and Joseph Frye (16-5) is sixth at 132.
Tuesday’s meet at Science Hill starts at 6 p.m. The Hilltoppers will also put on the Tony Farrace Duals on Saturday, when they will play host to top teams from Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.
Schools joining Science Hill in Saturday’s event, which starts at 9 a.m., will be Brentwood Academy, Maryville, Morristown West, Independence Parkersburg South (West Virginia), Riverside (West Virginia) and Grissom (Alabama).