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Knowing this is Gary Canter’s last region tournament, Central Hardin wrestling coach Russ Pike wouldn’t mind seeing Canter’s LaRue County Hawks win the 2nd Region Tournament this weekend.
But Pike admits he’d like his Bruins to play spoiler and keep the Hawks from winning their fourth straight title when the tournament begins at 7:30 tonight and continues at 10 a.m. Saturday at John Hardin’s Dawg Pound.
It would be LaRue County’s 13th region title under Canter, who’s retiring after the season.
“For him, it’d be old hat. It’d be the icing on his cake,” Pike said following Sunday’s seed meeting. “Would I like to steal that icing? Maybe. I want my kids to the best they can. That’s our goal. Our goal at the end of every year is to set our sights on the region title. Would I like to beat Gary? You better believe it. Gary’s one of the best coaches in the region and the state, so yeah, if I can beat him at the region tournament, it would definitely be a feather in my cap.”
LaRue County and Central Hardin have been the region’s top two teams this season. But both coaches know anything can happen – and that you can’t count out a team making a postseason surge.
“When it goes to a tournament, anything can happen and things can go different ways,” John Hardin coach Mike Mitchell said. “There are a couple of teams that could make a run at the top two, but they’re the lead horses right now.”
Nipping at their heels could be the Bulldogs and the North Hardin Trojans.
Pike said the Radcliff duo could wreak havoc for the Hawks and Bruins.
“I think John Hardin’s got a strong team and North Hardin’s lower weights are really strong,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for someone else to come in and put some pressure on everybody. If you can get four or five kids in the finals, it could really put a lot of pressure on the rest of us.”
Canter thinks the tournament is wide open. He said the race for the team championship will be the closest it’s been in several years.
“To me, it’s probably as open as it’s ever been in the last five or six years,” he said. “Several teams have a chance to finish at the top. There are a lot of good individuals who may not be connected to one of the favorite teams that are going to knock some of the others out of contention. A lot of individuals and a lot of teams could play spoiler.”
The Hawks can expect to be carried by three seniors who received No. 1 seeds for the 12-team tournament – 160-pounder Jared Whitlock (38-7), 170-pounder Caleb Canter (45-0) and 182-pounder B.J. Carman (51-1). Canter and Carman are ranked No. 1 in the state.
Freshman 132-pounder Dylan West (43-4) also received a No. 1 seed for LaRue County.
“They are crucial; they’re the key cogs for us,” Gary Canter said. “In order for us to score well at the state tournament, they’ve got to set themselves up for success this weekend. If those guys can push themselves to No. 1, they’re setting themselves up with better odds down the road. But you never know. Sometimes being No. 1 gives you a bad hand. You feel like it’s the end of the world if you don’t get that No. 1, but sometimes it ends up playing into your favor.”
John Hardin was the last team to beat LaRue County at the region tournament. The Bulldogs, who won consecutive titles in 2008 and ’09, hope to make it more than just a two-horse race for the title.
“I think, given what has gone on for the last 12 years, we’re still being chased,” Canter said. “Everyone would like to have that notch that says they knocked LaRue County off the pedestal. John Hardin was able to do that two years in a row, then we regained our dominance. It’s possible and it’s going to be a tight race. As far as the team race goes, it might be the most fun one we’ve had. Even back in those years when John Hardin beat us, it was a two-horse race. This year it could be much deeper.”
3RD REGION TOURNAMENT AT LOUISVILLE IROQUOIS. Since starting the program in 2006, the Meade County Green Wave have had their fair share of success.
They’ve finished second in the region tournament in seven of their eight seasons, leading veteran coach Bob Davis to think most region fans don’t like his team very much.
“It’s because we’re still a new program and we’ve only finished lower than second one year at region,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It’s because of the success that we’re hated. We do nothing to deserve that, but we’re going to go up there and do what we do best and that’s win.
“I try to use that to motivate them,” Davis added. “I don’t know how well it works, but I know there’s not a team up there that doesn’t want to beat Meade County. Everyone there will cheer for everybody but us.”
The tournament begins at 6:30 tonight at Iroquois and continues at 9:30 Saturday morning.
Davis likes his team’s chances of contending for the title, but said it will be tough to knock off defending champ Louisville Southern.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good shot,” Davis said. “We’re not walking out of there with anything less than second. I can say that with confidence. Southern has a strong program and a good coaching staff. They’re going to be tough to beat.
“I can’t say we’re peaking but we’re close,” he added. “We’ve had two weeks off to get them ready and get them conditioned. We’ve gone back to the basic and they’re ready. They’re a caged animal ready to be let out.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.