Each of Commerce’s state wrestling championships has its own legacy, perhaps none more compelling than last year’s title run.
The Tigers needed a near-flawless performance on the final day of the traditional state tournament to rally past Trion. They delivered, in gripping fashion, securing their seventh-straight championship.
“Each state title is special in itself because it's different kids and different circumstances and obstacles that have to be overcome,” Commerce coach Kendall Love said. “But, I will have to say, last year’s state tournament will definitely be the most memorable.”
In fact, Love called it the gutsiest performance of which he’d ever been part after the team was hit with injuries before and during the tournament and then had to make up a deficit to Trion.
“The whole team rallied around them and they wrestled their tails off,” Love said. “We had to win almost every match on the final day and most had to be by pin. It was definitely a storybook ending, and I could not have been any prouder of the guys.”
The good news for Commerce is most of that gutsy group is returning with just one senior starter having graduated. The impressive returning cast includes three state champions and four other state placers.
The landscape of Class A has changed a bit, however, after reclassification, as the Tigers seek their eighth straight traditional title. And the Tigers’ lineup won’t be at full strength for a while with the football season expected to run late into the year (Several Tiger wrestlers compete in both sports). But the team hopes to round into form by January when the dual postseason begins. Commerce looks to reclaim its state duals title after that streak ended at six this year.
Love is excited to see this team return to the mat.
“I am excited to get this season underway,” Love said. “Most of our guys play football so we will get a late start compared to most teams. We have a very successful athletic program here at Commerce across all sports, and that is what makes this place special. I expect our football team to continue to have success and go deep in the playoffs.
“We will hit the ground running after football season and try our best to get in shape for wrestling. It will take a couple of weeks, but we will get there.”
•Lineup: Commerce lost only Josh Frates from last year’s traditional state championship squad, while three state champions return to the mat — Dawson Legg, Jake Frates and Elijah Burns. Four other returning Tigers placed — Daniel Nash (third), Bryson Flint (third), Brayden Phillips (third) and Ethan Epps (fifth) — giving Commerce seven state placers that will take the mat this year. Caleb Levin, Landon Worley and Lambdin Hardy were near-placers last year as well. “We also will have some faces on the team this year that I am expecting big things from,” Love said.
•Area outlook: Class A will expand from six areas to eight smaller areas. As a result, it will put Commerce into an area with some familiar teams. As for the competition in Class A, reclassification shifted several strong programs down from Class AA. One of those heavyweights is Social Circle, which won a series of state titles in Class AA. “We know them well and expect to rekindle an old rivalry with them,” Love said. The coach added that Class A will be very deep with Trion, Mt. Pisgah, Social Circle and Commerce all in the mix.
•Tournaments: COVID-19 prevented Commerce from scheduling its usual out-of-state tournaments, but Love found several in-state tournaments to prepare the Tigers for postseason competition. Commerce will not see a Class A squad until area duals.
•Goals: Love’s focus is on daily improvements leading to big things. “We will see where we are each weekend and work on things we need to do to get better. It is my belief that, if we can do that, we will be in a position to compete for a state championship,” Love said. Expectations, as always, are high. “We always have high expectations because of the tradition that has been built here at Commerce,” Love said. “This year is no different. The coaches will do everything in our power to make sure the guys are prepared.”