Entering Tuesday’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 — 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.
“One thing I always tell them is everyone wants to win when they pull up in the parking lot,” Clark said. “Everyone wants to win then, but you have to want to win in practice, in the fall, in the spring and in the winter. That’s when you’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.”
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.
“That’s just a statistic,” Clark said. “We haven’t won the big one the last three years. That’s the one we want to win. Those things are nice, but until we’re able to win the big one, I think that isn’t as important as winning the big one.”
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.
“We saw Piedmont at Christmas. We saw them the last two years,” Clark said. “We’re familiar with them. The duals are so condensed — two rounds Tuesday, two rounds Thursday, the final on Saturday, and it’s over. You want to take each match as it comes, but at the same time be ready because it’s going to come. You have to be ready for whoever advances.”
The Red Devils’ 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.
“Everyone heard all the bad stuff, but they don’t know what actually goes on,” said junior Casey Toomey. “If you saw us before that incident, you’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.”
Clark said a lot had to do with the character of the young men on his team.
“Our kids are pretty unflappable,” he said. “It didn’t bother them. We’ve been through a lot this season, not just the things that went public. We’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.”
Senior Tyler Benfield, who is 41-3 on the mat this season at 195 pounds, said the group is more unified.
“We’re like family,” he said. “It’s not just a friendship. It seems like we’re all first cousins instead of distantly related.”
Refocused and rejuvenated, the Red Devils won 22 of 24 dual team matches since the incident.
Clark said he’s made sure to emphasize the basics.
“Our 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. It’s the little things,” Clark said. “That’s what we’ve preached all year. If they take care of themselves, everything will do well for themselves.”
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.
“Wrestling 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.”
Benfield said as long as he and his teammates stay consistent starting with Tuesday’s first round duals, the Red Devils’ chances at a state crown are good.
“As long as we keep our heads on straight, wrestle smart and do everything we are supposed to do, we have a really good chance,” he said.