When Central picked up its first ever title at the 2015 City Wrestling Championships, it had to overcome some pretty long odds.
The Red Devils were in a tight match with Smiths Station and Spencer, and it could have gone either way, but the team won each of the last three matches to get out of the Columbus High gym with a trophy.
Flash forward to this year. Central has placed first in six of its tournaments, including the Red Devil Duals, and finished sixth overall at the elite Deep South Bayou Championships in Baton Rouge, La.
Whereas this team entered the 20th annual city championships a year ago as one trying to catch the usual suspects, it will enter the 21st edition (9 a.m. today at Columbus High) as the one with the target on its back.
Coach Rob Morales said that the process the team has gone through over the past two or three years, though, has prepared them for just such a moment.
"We've done really well," he said. "It didn't happen overnight. We started this process about two years ago. We defined what made a good wrestler and wrote (that) down on a piece of paper. We worked toward those things and checked them off as we went through."
And it has paid off. The team got to a point in the past where it had three strong wrestlers coaches were confident in. Now, that number is up to about seven.
Two of those, freshman Max Kauffman (120-pound class) and sophomore Tony Morales (152) won individual titles at last year's city championship. Kauffman won in the 106 and Morales the 132, though both have moved up this year.
"It's good to have a group like that," Rob Morales said. "They know how we do things, how we go about things. If those can help six or seven more, we'll be that much better."
That isn't to say Central should be the sole favorite
in this event this year. Morales and assistant coach Mike Kauffman were quick to point out how close the event was a year ago and that they expect more of the same this time.
"It was back and forth, back and forth down to the absolute last match last year," Kauffman said.
"It's going to be a really good, close match again."
And it should involve the same two competitors that nearly finished ahead of Central a year ago.
Smiths Station and Spencer are both always strong, and Kauffman named those two in addition to strong individual competitors at schools such as Northside and Columbus, among others.
Morales said he isn't worried about the trophy, but in his team competing at its highest level in the event.
"Our thing is to wrestle our best," he said.
"If our best brings us a first-place trophy or a sixth-place, whatever.
"We just want to wrestle our best.
"We know our best will have us in the conversation."
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports