As coach Jimmy Miller pointed out, the Hilltoppers have finished in the four in the state duals for seven of the past 10 years. This year appears to be another loaded lineup as the two-time defending Region 1 champions hosted their preseason duals on Saturday.
“When you put that singlet on, there is a lot of expectation, a lot of responsibility that goes along with it,” Miller said. “It’s not just a uniform. As a program, we are trying to stay where we’ve been where we’ve made seven of the last 10 state semifinals.”
Two-time state champion Chase Diehl, perhaps the best wrestler ever to come out of Northeast Tennessee, has graduated. Still, the Hilltoppers return five state medalists including Braxton Mann, who was state runner-up at the 126-pound weight class last season.
Mann was wrestling at a much heavier weight during the duals, but Miller pointed out most of the guys weren’t at the weights they will wrestle during the season. Other returning medalists from last season are Joseph Frye and Jared Harter. Tyler Seeley was a state medalist in 2017 and also a standout on Saturday.
“Tyler Seeley had a good match with a good kid out of Knoxville,” Miller said. “We have a lot of our seniors like Jared Harter and Joseph Frye who are moving right along. Those are the kids we expect a lot out of.”
It’s a strong lineup throughout with Hayden Bodo, Gio Demetrikopolos and Tripp Miller bringing experience at some of the lower weights.
Nick Lane and Jahkye Aples have good athleticism in the middle weights, while the Hilltoppers had some new names working in the heavier classes Saturday.
They included Perry Tate, Levi Grunder, Corbin Gerard, Tyler Nelson and Keimel Redford.
“It was the first time we got on the mat and they were tired of going against each other,” Miller said. “Levi Grunder and our heavyweight Keimel Redford, they’re a couple who we’re expecting a lot of them. The kids are finding what is expected of them on a daily basis when they represent our program and our high school.
“Today wasn’t about whether we were wrestling good or bad. It was about what are we doing and not doing right and what we need to work on.”