WATSON – By his own admission, Live Oak wrestling coach Chris Collier didn’t think anybody could catch Teurlings Catholic and Parkway among the leaders for last year’s Division II state championship.
Live Oak, with an overall youthful team, managed a fourth-place finish which was 73 points behind co-champion Teurlings and Parkway.
While that finish may have been considered below expectations, what it’s done is serve as motivation for a Live Oak team dominated by a roster of juniors and seniors, placing the Eagles in prime position to possibly capture the school’s first state crown for the 2018-19 season.
“Our expectation this year is to win it all,” Collier said. “We have nothing to lose. This is what we build on every year, we just haven’t had the opportunity to get there. There has always been some sort of hiccup - bump in the road - or we just underperform. But I think this year we have the potential to put it all out there and really have a great season.”
Said Live Oak sophomore Anthony Dodson, “We’re hoping we can win state. We have a really good shot.”
Live Oak’s led by juniors Clayton Hill and Camdyn Ingram, who were dominant a year ago and claimed individual state titles.
Hill finished with an outstanding 57-10 record in the 106-pound weight class, bolstering his career record to an astonishing 96-28 that includes 87 pins and two state championships.
Ingram concluded his championship season at 152 pounds with a remarkable 65-1 record to improve his career mark to 122-6 with 67 pins.
Hill won his championship after an upset of TCHS’ Matthew Carrier by pin in the third round of their championship bout.
The lone senior this season is Bayley Hebert, who placed third in last year’s state meet in the 126-pound division, and has steadily improved through the program’s revamped offseason conditioning and to try and contend for a state title.
The Eagles also return sophomore Anthony Dodson, a fourth-place finisher at state last year in the 152-pound division and is a wrestler Collier is expecting big things out of this season.
“This might be one of the more talented teams we’ve had since back to 2012,” Collier said.
In order for a step up in the team standings this season, Collier implemented a new offseason weightlifting program that he contends has already paid dividends.
Collier has focused his team more on cross-fit style workouts to foster greater explosiveness and more wrestling-specific skills.
The Eagles have also wrestled more over the offseason and spent time trying to develop greater team chemistry.
“We’re heading into the season with the experience we have,” Collier said. “Plus (assistant coach) Norman Hill was able to take a good bit of our guys, especially our younger guys, to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga camp. They got a lot of valuable experience and good team bonding. And then we had a lot of guys wrestling on the national level… The changes we made in weightlifting have really come a long way. It has really helped the guys out to become more wrestling-specific.”
“We’ve been working with each other,” Dodson said. “Getting close to each other, counting on each other, just learning to be teammates basically.”
Live Oak appears to have all the pieces in place for a legitimate run at its first state title.
They have they qualities such as talent, experience and coaching – necessary to make a push for a championship.
When asked what one thing Live Oak needed to take place to position itself for a state crown, Collier pointed toward accountability on the part of the wrestlers in the program.
“It’s a state championship or bust this year,” Collier said. “We have been gearing up and building for this opportunity for the last three years. Winning city and winning state are the goal year in and year out, but this is the year it’s as close as it’s been.”