The Smiths Station wrestling team lost four state placers from a team that placed ninth at the state competition last season. That alone was a good enough excuse for this year's team to slide back into the field a bit.
But the Panthers didn't make excuses.
Instead, they went out and compiled a 28-1 dual record, sent eight wrestlers to state, had one state champion and finished ninth at state for the second year in a row.
That success was enough to earn it high honors in this year's All-Bi-City. Coach Tommy Sanders was named the All-Bi-City coach of the year and Joshua Jamieson, who won an individual title at 126 for AHSAA Class 6A, was named wrestler of the year.
"Our wrestlers expect to win and my assistant coaches are doing a great job of preparing the kids," Sanders said.
The biggest success story for Smiths Station this year was Jamieson, who Sanders said flatly was the best wrestler in the city.
Jamieson is a three-time state placer and put together a 51-1 record this season. In the state tournament, he allowed only two points on escapes in four total matches.
"Like most state champion wrestlers, he is a special talent," Sanders said. "I honestly believe he thinks that he will win every match. He is very physical and normally does not allow his opponents to score."
Sanders said his biggest improvement this year was wrestling in neutral, noting that the first person to score usually wins the match. Jamieson got the first takedown in all but one match this season.
"He has put a lot of time into becoming a great wrestler with offseason training and was always leading during the conditioning," Sanders said. "He is a very good student who takes coaching well."
It helps when that coaching is sound instruction, of course.
There is a reason Smiths Station is able to withstand losses and continue its success at the state level, and that's because of the program Sanders has in place.
From a young age, wrestlers succeed and improve over their time at the school.
Max Kauffman, a seventh grader, placed sixth at state and will have plenty of time in the program. Junior Logan Beyer placed fifth and will be back next year.
For the third year in a row, the team had a wrestler in the finals, winning it all for the second time during that period.
"I am so proud of this year's team, because I feel that we exceeded everyone's expectations," Sanders said, noting that the expectations will be even higher going forward.
Most of the wrestlers are back, and he expects they will be better than ever.
"We have all of our starters back next year with the exception of Joshua Jamieson," Sanders said. "If we continue to be humble and not satisfied with all the achievements, then next year's team could be the best that I have had at Smiths Station. State champion wrestlers and championship teams are made in the offseason, not the regular season. To compete at the highest level, you can't do what everyone else is doing. You have to do more or strive to do it better."
If they can, more accolades are sure to come for the Panthers.