Perhaps the toughest opponent Holly Springs faced in the first two rounds of the state 4A dual-team wrestling tournament Tuesday night was itself.
But the Golden Hawks handled overconfidence – and Richmond County and Leesville Road – to advance to the third round Thursday against Riverside.
Holly Springs – No. 1 in the News & Observer wrestling standings – moved to 26-0 by beating Richmond County 53-18 in the first round and then knocking off Leesville Road 47-22 in the second round.
“Today was a little bit of a tester,” Holly Springs senior heavyweight C.J. Toogood said. “Usually those teams don’t score as many points, 20 points. That kind of shocked us a little bit, so I think that’s a little tester for practice tomorrow. We’ll pick up the intensity and get ready for Thursday.
“The freshmen and sophomores are starting to see the expectations we have and how intense you need to be for these big events.”
Toogood improved to 30-1 with a pair of pins. He was one of six Hawks to wrestle two matches and one of four to win twice. Also doubling-up Tuesday were Roman Flaherty at 120, Cam Devers at 138 and Travian Cooke at 170. Holly Springs also didn’t lose at the five heaviest weight classes Tuesday, garnering 53 of their 100 total points from the 170-pound class and up.
Hawks coach Nick Nosbisch said his team has enough senior leadership to avoid looking past opponents.
“We have a pretty tough wrestling room, which helps that,” Nosbisch said. “We’ve got some older guys on the team who are good about managing the team and keeping everybody in check.
“It’s not a wrestling room where you can walk around in practice and think you’re the baddest wrestler on the planet. There’s someone else who can take it to you, so that helps limit that ego.”
Plus, Nosbisch said all his wrestlers are clear on the team’s goal: “Put our best guys out there every match and compete with the best.”
Notice that Nosbisch didn’t say the state championship was the goal, for the next team, the next round is the focus.
But Toogood admitted he’s thinking about the state title.
“I think I am,” Toogood said. “It’s been a long time coming for this team. I’ve been in the playoffs three years in a row now, and it’s time for the seniors to get a state championship.
“One round at a time, definitely. But it’s always in the back of my head that I want to get there. It’s a good way to push ourselves to go harder, to get to that place.”
Leesville Road would love to get to that place, too, but the Pride has to be satisfied with one of its best seasons. Coach Jason Wyss’ team set a school record Tuesday with its 35th victory this season, beating Clayton 53-19 in the first round.
There were other accolades, too, including tying for the Cap Eight conference regular season title before winning the conference tournament. Plus, Wyss earned his 300th victory as a coach as his team exceeded expectations in 2014-15.
“We were breaking in a lot of new faces and we weren’t filling certain weight classes, but these guys did a tremendous job all year long,” Wyss said. “I’m very proud of these guys and am looking forward to the regional tournament and see what we can do.”
Leesville (35-12) loses four seniors – including 145-pounder Carson Dean, who won twice Tuesday – so the foundation is in good shape.
“I think we’ll do better next year,” 132-pound junior Cole Collins said. “We’ve just got to get some bigger guys. I think we’ll do OK next year.”
Wyss said he needs to “work the hallways” to find wrestlers for the heavier classes next season. Still, his 15th year as head coach at Leesville Road has “been very rewarding.”
“They’re young and hungry,” Wyss said. “They accomplished so much this year. Coming in, we didn’t really know. Our goal is always to compete for the conference title, and these guys worked extremely hard and put themselves in position to hopefully get good seeds in the (individual) regional tournament.”
That’s where Clayton is looking, too, after a quick exit in the dual-team playoffs. The Comets (11-3) sprinted out to a 15-0 lead by winning the first three matches against Leesville, but coach Cory Daker’s team ran out of steam, forfeiting four classes and only winning one of the remaining 11 bouts.
“We’ve wrestled Leesville before, and they’re a good, good team with a full lineup,” Daker said. “We kinda came here to see what would happen. We’ve had some injuries and things like that, but we’ve been kinda short all year long. It shows up when you wrestle against good teams like this. They put it to us, bottom line.”
Clayton left the Holly Springs gym quickly, perhaps to get ready for the individual tournament that starts Feb. 13.
“We’ve had a good season, but it’s not over yet,” Daker said. “We’re kinda fixated on next weekend.”