The recent past is sterling and future is bright for Science Hill wrestling. The tough part, however, is dealing with the present.
With Damian Hayes and Ethan Morelock the only returning starters on the varsity roster, the Hilltoppers are severly lacking in experience. It presents a whole new set of challenges for head coach Jeff Price and his top assistant Jimmy Miller.
“It’s a long road for us this year,” Miller said. “The young kids are working hard and are doing exactly what we’re asking them to do. It’s just the experience with the tough schedule we always have. We’ve got kids on the mat who have never wrestled for us before. It’s going to take time, but if the kids keep doing what we ask and keep working hard, good things will happen for us.”
Hayes, a senior who wrestles at the 220-pound weight class, and Morelock, a junior at heavyweight, are only a handful on the team with any varsity experience. Ben Curtis, a senior at heavyweight, wrestled a few matches last season, while Max Vaughn started as an eighth-grader, but was stuck behind Cole Schurlknight each of the past two seasons.
It was understandable as Schurlknight helped lead the Hilltoppers (45-3) to their fourth straight Region 1-AAA title and a fourth-place finish in the state duals. In addition, they finished eighth in the state individual competition.
While most of that team is gone, it’s not like the cupboard is totally bare.
Vaughn scored pins against wrestlers from North Carolina schools North Henderson and Mitchell on Tuesday night, while Austin Bagley, a junior at 145, also scored pins in each of his matches. Matt Dammann, a senior at 126, also had an impressive outing, pinning Mitchell’s Levi Richardson in just 1:30.
“Max Vaughn is doing tremendous things for us right now,” Miller said. “Austin Bagley, Matt Dammann, these kids are working hard and trying their best to get these young kids to follow them.”
The young kids include six sophomores — Eric Yother at 113, Sam Lane at 120, Shane King-Jessee at 138, Ben Rolston at 152, Colby Hardin at 182 and Anh Khoa Nguyen at 195. There are also three freshmen —Marcus Austin at 106, Costa Kalogeros at 160 and Hunter Bagley at 170 — in the starting lineup. “It’s a new place for us,” Miller said. “The last 3-4 years, we’ve been a little on cruise control. We’ve had a good core of kids who have been with it a long time. You tweaked them, a little bit here and a little bit there. You had kids who were self-driven and always worked to get better. This year it’s tough. It’s a struggle mentally, even for us as coaches. But we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. If these kids will keep working hard, listening and believing, we will get where we need to be.”
The future is definitely bright with 20 kids currently competing for the Liberty Bell Middle School team. There is tradition to uphold as a number of recent wins have cemented Science Hill as one of the state’s best programs.
“One thing I was thinking about, we can say something that nobody can say,” Price said. “You think of the four teams which have been the established teams — Bradley (Central), Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy and Clarksville — we’ve beaten all of them the past couple of years. Nobody else can say that.”
The Hilltoppers will try to score another big win Saturday when they participate in the Ram Invitational at Hillcrest, S.C. They open up Region 1 action next Tuesday with a dual match against Sullivan East.