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Entering Tuesdayâ€™s first and second rounds of the dual team state wrestling tournament, Newton-Conover is rolling.
The Red Devils, tied for 10th in the country in wins with 38, try to capture something that has evaded them the past few seasons â€” a state championship.
It starts with a first-round match-up against Ashe County.
N-C wrestling coach Eddy Clark said it all starts with a formula.
â€śOne thing I always tell them is everyone wants to win when they pull up in the parking lot,â€ť Clark said. â€śEveryone wants to win then, but you have to want to win in practice, in the fall, in the spring and in the winter. Thatâ€™s when youâ€™ve got to want to win. I try to talk to the kids about that, so we will develop the working mentally, rather the winning mentality.â€ť
From 2007-11, the Red Devils made five trips to the Western Regional finals, including finals appearances from 2007-09.
During those years, the team ranked in the top 10 in the country in wins, a number Clark said is flawed.
â€śThatâ€™s just a statistic,â€ť Clark said. â€śWe havenâ€™t won the big one the last three years. Thatâ€™s the one we want to win. Those things are nice, but until weâ€™re able to win the big one, I think that isnâ€™t as important as winning the big one.â€ť
Piedmont is a team N-C could draw Thursday if it wins in the first and second rounds.
The Panthers (33-0) knocked out the Red Devils in the Western Regional finals the past two seasons.
â€śWe saw Piedmont at Christmas. We saw them the last two years,â€ť Clark said. â€śWeâ€™re familiar with them. The duals are so condensed â€” two rounds Tuesday, two rounds Thursday, the final on Saturday, and itâ€™s over. You want to take each match as it comes, but at the same time be ready because itâ€™s going to come. You have to be ready for whoever advances.â€ť
The Red Devilsâ€™ road to claim a title in 2012 nearly derailed in December, when a hazing incident happened within the team.
Team members said it brought the group closer together.
â€śEveryone heard all the bad stuff, but they donâ€™t know what actually goes on,â€ť said junior Casey Toomey. â€śIf you saw us before that incident, youâ€™d see us goof around before matches. Since then, we always have serious aspect. We walk into every place, get our heads straight, fulfill our goals and go as hard as we can go.â€ť
Clark said a lot had to do with the character of the young men on his team.
â€śOur kids are pretty unflappable,â€ť he said. â€śIt didnâ€™t bother them. Weâ€™ve been through a lot this season, not just the things that went public. Weâ€™ve been able to keep it between the ditches despite a lot of things not going our way. There is something to be said there.â€ť
Senior Tyler Benfield, who is 41-3 on the mat this season at 195 pounds, said the group is more unified.
â€śWeâ€™re like family,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s not just a friendship. It seems like weâ€™re all first cousins instead of distantly related.â€ť
Refocused and rejuvenated, the Red Devils won 22 of 24 dual team matches since the incident.
Clark said heâ€™s made sure to emphasize the basics.
â€śOur kids have to take care of what they control, which is making their weight, being ready mentally, having all their equipment and being on time. Itâ€™s the little things,â€ť Clark said. â€śThatâ€™s what weâ€™ve preached all year. If they take care of themselves, everything will do well for themselves.â€ť
Focused on the postseason, Toomey said a hard non-conference slate, which included Lake Norman and North Iredell, prepared the N-C wrestling team for its hard playoff road.
â€śWrestling those 4A teams that are, if not better than us then just as good as us, has really helped. If you can go six minutes with one of those guys, you can beat anyone in your conference.â€ť
Benfield said as long as he and his teammates stay consistent starting with Tuesdayâ€™s first round duals, the Red Devilsâ€™ chances at a state crown are good.
â€śAs long as we keep our heads on straight, wrestle smart and do everything we are supposed to do, we have a really good chance,â€ť he said.View more articles in: