Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
Lincoln County wrestling teams face one more test before the start of team and individual state playoffs.
The Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference Tournament, held on Saturday at West Lincoln High School beginning at 10:30 a.m., will help determine which athletes get to move on to the regional round of playoffs.
West Lincoln, Lincolnton, East Lincoln, North Lincoln and Cherryville are the only schools in the eight-team SPC that have wrestling teams.
West Lincoln’s Rebels claimed the conference’s regular season championship with a perfect 4-0 record over its SPC opponents and will likely be the lone entry from the county in the 2A state dual team playoffs. But that doesn’t stop head coach Butch Ross from being wary of his team’s opponents in the conference tournament.
“I think they’re all going to have a good test the whole way through,” he said. “Each of the county schools is getting better. Lincolnton is pretty solid. They have a full team and they’ve been wrestling well. They could score a lot of points in the tournament.”
Lincolnton head coach Brent Gates said his wrestlers have a chance to take a few upset wins if they perform well.
“I told the team we can go in there and we could have several guys be All-Conference,” he said. “With the team aspect over, individual matches are pretty much up to them. A lot could happen. A lot of guys are ready to go run track or play baseball, and I told my guys we could sneak up on somebody and beat them. At the same time, if we’re slacking someone can sneak up on us and beat us.”
Lincolnton finished as runner-up in the conference standings for the fourth time in five seasons with a 3-1 record, the lone loss coming against West Lincoln 57-18 on Jan. 18. The Wolves are now hoping that several of their players finish strong enough at the regional meet to earn a bid to the individual playoffs.
“There are several that, if they wrestle well, they have a legit shot at going,” Gates said. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen in the postseason. Wrestling is a long season, some people just get tired.”
The conference tournament has a homecoming flavor for both Gates and North Lincoln coach Matt Avery. The two wrestled under Ross while students at West Lincoln.
“You want to pull for them but you don’t want to pull for them,” Ross said. “You pull for them when they’re wrestling somebody else but when you’re wrestling them you know that you have to just look at them as being another coach.”
East Lincoln finished the regular season with a 2-2 conference record with wins over North Lincoln and Cherryville.
Matches at the round-robin conference tournament begin in the morning, break for lunch and close with a session from 1-4 p.m.