All the blood, sweat and mat-burn will soon pay off as the week-long SCHSL wrestling state title tournaments begin this weekend.
Class 4A and 3A first- and second-round tournament matches are scheduled for Saturday. The tournament concludes Feb. 15 at Dreher.
Defending champions Lexington and Eastside are in the mix, but a few other local teams also have a shot.
And in Class 2A, four rounds will be held on one day.
Here’s a look at which local teams could be top performers this weekend:
After years on the brink, coach Derek Strobel’s Lexington Wildcats captured the 4A title in 2013. This season, the 26-6 Wildcats are among the state’s top contenders, led by seniors Jackson Myers and Daniel Bannister. Myers is ranked No. 1 at 126 pounds; Bannister is No. 1 at 182.
The Wildcats boast top-five wrestlers in four other weight classes ( Andrew Szalwinski, 132; Trev Comstock, 145; Michael Manning, 170; Andrew Carnes, 195).
Lexington is ranked third in the coaches’ poll.
The Lower State bracket works to the Wildcats’ advantage, as they would face No. 11 Bluffton or No. 20 Goose Creek in the second round, and would not see No. 2 Summerville (29-1) until the semifinal.
A first-year program with a legendary coach in B.D. LaPrad, the Gators will make history this weekend no matter the outcome.
River Bluff rolls into the playoffs after taking second in its region. Six Gators wrestlers are region champions — among them are Quint Baldwin, ranked sixth at 138; 152-pound No. 3 Hakeem Ferguson; 195-pound No. 6 Levi Wright; and Hunter Forsyth, No. 8 at 182.
The No. 7 Timberwolves have an uphill climb that starts with a first-round match against Conway in Summerville.
White Knoll (28-3) defeated Conway 49-22 earlier this season, and will have to dominate again to take momentum into the second round, where they would face No. 2. Summerville.
White Knoll is led by defending state heavyweight champion Patton Gossett; sophomore Rian Burriss, who is ranked No. 2 at 120; and senior Emil Colin, No. 3 at 132.
The Timberwolves have No. 3 Liam Smith at 152, and look for a good match from Jimmy Reed at 160 when he takes on Summerville’s Anthony Collins.
Getting through Summerville could set up the Timberwolves for a deep playoff run.
The Class 2A Upper State No. 1 seed Capitals (24-4) are ranked 10th in the state, and would have to conquer at least three of the other top 10 squads to survive four rounds of Upper State competition.
To their benefit, the Capitals have a seasoned coach in Joseph Lovier, and some tough wrestlers. Junior Louis Wilson, who won silver in last year’s individual tournament, is a team leader and ranked No. 1 at 160.
Other top performers for Columbia are junior Kalil Collins at 106, Sam Bennett at 152, Kimone Shaw at 170, and senior Justin Frasier at 195.
The Silver Foxes missed a week of competition last month for health reasons, and enter the tournament ranked 14th after finishing third in their region.
If they get beyond unranked Carolina Forest in the first round, the bracket puts Beaufort (No. 12, 14-10) in the Silver Foxes’ path.
Leading the Silver Fox effort are seniors Aaron Burton, Josh Davis and Justin Mitchell.