Fourth time’s a charm?
(To follow the Tigers at this year's state tournament on Twitter, follow The Mountain Press Sports Editor Jason Davis @jasondavispress)
As Pigeon Forge High School wrestling coach read the passage, his athletes looked at their coach and each other.
“I am a player, and athlete and a champion,” Foreman quoted from an essay, written by an unknown author plucked from the internet. “Not because I know what it is like to win, but because I know what it is like to lose. I know what it is like to feel the anger and pain that comes along with ‘second best.’”
That part of the story especially rang true for the Tigers.
This weekend the wrestling team will try to put two seasons of near-misses behind them and do what no team from this area has done before — bring home a TSSAA State Wrestling championship.
The Orange and Black captured their fourth-straight state berth last week, as they toppled Gibbs for their fourth consecutive region title.
Starting tonight they’ll try to improve on their second-place fininshes from 2011 and 2012.
In 2012, the Tigers narrowly lost in the finals to Chattanooga Central, 33-27. The Pounders also beat the Tigers in 2011 by the same score in the championship match.
But this year Chattanooga Central is nowhere to be found. They fell short of the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
And that leaves the door wide open for the Tigers, a team many thought would be rebuilding after last year’s runner-up run.
“It’s because we lost David (Kieta) and Cody (Davis),” Foreman said earlier this week. “David and Cody were exceptional seniors, they were state-known, nationally-known, and typically when you have kids that are that status on your team, people project as the whole team, and that’s not really the case. You can have one or two superstars on your team and team-wise still just be mediocre or OK.
“People expected, because we lost those two, that we were starting back over from scratch,” Foreman said.
That just wasn’t the case.
“I knew last year that we might have a better team this year, simply because we’ve got more experience (across the board),” the coach said. “We’re younger (overall) this year, but we’ve got more wrestling experience across the board. We’ve had a really good eighth grade class come up as freshmen this year, and those kids have just done a phenomenal job of stepping up.”
Joining a powerful group of seniors, which includes state-ranked Joseph Dodgen, Nate Croley and Caleb Poole, as well as Trevor Reed, who’s also got a slew of big-time experience under his belt.
“Most of the teams now are very familiar with us, and I’m sure they’ve done their scouting homework,” Foreman said. “But starting at the first of the season, it was kind of funny reaction. Everybody assumed that we’d have a bunch of young kids and be rebuilding, but we started pretty strong and kept amping up that pace. People were pretty surprised that we were that caliber.”
Standing in the way of Pigeon Forge will be teams like Hixson, Sycamore and East Ridge.
Hixson has made six-straight appearances in the state tournament and has finished third the past two years. Last year PF knocked it from the winners’ bracket with a 33-32 win in the semifinals. Hixson was back-to-back state champions in 2009 and 2010.
Sycamore is the next most-experienced team behind the Tigers with three-straight tournament appearances. They’ve twice finished fourth, including last season.
East Ridge, making their first tournament appearance since the bracket went to the eight-team format in 2008, is also a very strong team.
Foreman hopes his team’s brush with a title the past two years will push them over the verge this season.
“It kind of leaves that bad taste in your mouth, and hopefully in their case it’s going to give them that extra little mental fire, that will, that we’ve been here before and felt all the emotions and the results of being a second place team — watching the other team win that championship.
“Very few get that chance (to get another shot). But being in that situation and being so close for two years in a row is hard to swallow. It’s great to have the opportunity, and be thankful for it, but now it’s time to close that book on that chapter.”