Trying to repeat its state title from a season ago, Fred T. Foard goes from the hunters to the hunted.
The Tigers wrestling team claimed the school’s first-ever boys state championship a year ago.
Foard coach Mike Carey said the feeling of entering as defending champions isn’t that different from starting last year as challengers.
“It gives us a sense of confidence that we can do well,” Carey said. “Individually, we just have to wrestle every match we get the chance to. It could be the last time. We have to make sure we need to take care of things and good things will come.”
The teams share similarities.
The Tigers sent seven wrestlers last year to the state tournament, including departed seniors Jacob Harper, Cole Schanilec, Dillion Johnson and current members Hayden Albert, Jeremy Fredell, Caleb Griffin and Zack Edwards.
Western regional champion Ben Pitts, Trevor Cook and Nick Rotenberry also return.
Pitts said winning his weight class and heading to states for the first time was a dream come true.
“It meant a lot to me,” Pitts said. “My dad always tells me to do my best. I had nothing to lose, so I laid it all out on the line. I just tried my hardest and things went well.”
Carey was glad to see his wrestler get over the hump.
“Ben has kind of been ‘close, but no cigar’ every year,” Carey said. “He’s finally getting some confidence in some things he does. He doesn’t do a lot, but the things he does, he does real well.”
Perhaps the most remarkable of the stories on the Tigers squad is Albert.
The senior broke his hand during practice a few weeks ago and missed several matches, but has returned to wrestle with the injury braced.
“I have no grip in my left hand, and I had to completely change up my style,” Albert said. “I have to work a lot of moves on the right side, shoot with my left hand, but not be able to grab anything. It’s a totally different style. On bottom and top, I can’t put as much pressure on it. I’ve learned to work with it.”
Despite the ailment, Albert enters the state tournament with an undefeated record of 38-0 and won a Western Regional championship at 160 pounds.
“Hayden has been money for a while now,” Carey said. “He’s learning how to deal with that hand injury and overcoming that. If he can deal with that to the best of his ability, he still has a chance to win it.”
The final tally for Foard’s title was closely contest. The Tigers scored 90 points, Union Pines came in second with 88 points and fellow-Northwestern 3A/4A school St. Stephens placed third with 85 points.
Carey said in order for his squad to be successful again, they’ve set their goals extra high.
“We plan on winning seven weight classes,” he said. “Obviously, the reality of that isn’t probable. That is the mentality we need to have. If we don’t, we are short-changing ourselves.”
With their backs against the wall and a full field of competition ahead of them, some Foard wrestlers like the position they are in.
“I thrive off of being an underdog.” Albert said. “We won it with seven last year. We can win it with seven again this year.”