Hawks facetop-seed Popein today's opener
By DAVID MITCHELL
When the Hardaway wrestling team begins competition in the Class AAAAA state duals today at the Macon (Ga.) Centreplex, the coaches and athletes will be aware of a couple of things.
First, as the only team that advanced out of Columbus, it will be carrying the torch for the entire area, something coach Kevin Noviello said his wrestlers were very proud of.
Second, the Hawks will have their work cut out for them from the very beginning, as they will face the top seed in the classification, Pope High.
Noviello addressed the former first.
"Our kids are proud they're the only team left standing because there are some really good, quality schools in Columbus," he said. "To know that, out of all the high schools, no matter the division, we were the only one to make it is a triumph. Of all these schools, we're here."
With that in mind, Noviello said, his team hopes to have a strong showing.
"We want to represent ourselves and our city well, no matter what," he said. "There are going to be some middle-ranked teams that get put out by middle-ranked teams. We're facing the best, so if we get put out, it'll be by the very best."
That's a blessing and a curse for a first-round matchup, of course.
On the one hand, every team hopes to survive and advance, giving itself a fighting chance in the later rounds. On the other, Hardaway knows what it is up against.
"We know it's going to be an uphill battle," Noviello said. "With our first opponent being Pope, the No. 1 seed, that's a good, quality program. But, I've talked with our kids. They know who (Pope) is and what it's about."
That serves as motivation.
"It's a David vs. Goliath scenario," Noviello said. "We know we're going in with a small weapon, but our kids are upbeat and haven't changed their training habits. It would be easy to hang heads and say we're going to have a loss, but our kids know that to be the best, they've got to beat the best."
That's a mindset the team has had all season long. More, perhaps, than its desire to win, Hardaway simply hates
losing. It has shown a "tenacity not to lose" all season, as Noviello put it.
"We take losses very personally," he said. "They hate it. That's what has pushed us. Even when it's one of our individual classes, the whole team can't stand it."
While that's always a possibility against a team as talented as Pope, the Hawks are approaching it as they would any other competition.
Noviello said that he needs a strong showing from his middleweight classes in order to give the team a chance.
"That's where our strength is right now," he said. "They've carried us most of the year. If we're going to be successful, we're going to have to get strong performances from them."
Those include Xavier Woods (160-pound), Cameron Williams (138-pound) and Luis Ledesma (152-pound). Noviello described Woods as the team leader, verbally and on the mat. Williams, he said, was the most seasoned wrestler. Ledesma is the most improved.
"He's really won some key matches for us," Noviello said.
A strong showing by these three, and others, will give Hardaway peace of mind knowing that it performed its best.
"We're very optimistic," Noviello said. "If we don't walk away with a team win, we're not counting it as a team loss."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571