This isn't Central sophomore wrestler Tony Morales' first trip to the AHSAA Class 7A state tournament. He was there a year ago as a freshman in the 132-pound weight class, but he has tried to put that experience behind him.
After making it to the semifinals and losing to someone he had already beat once earlier in the year, he was out of energy and lost a consolation match, as well.
"My body was just giving out on me," he recalled this week. "I just felt horrible about it. When I got to my next match, I just couldn't do it."
As he prepares to begin competition at state this year in the 152-pound class, stronger and more conditioned than ever, he was quick to express his physical state this year.
"I feel great," he said.
Morales will begin his chase for an individual state championship on Friday in Huntsville, Ala., as the 2 seed in his class. He is joined by Central teammates Studd Morris (106), Max Kauffman (113), Jon Sto
rey (145) and Jadarius Johnson (182).
After winning his super sectional match, Morales said he was happy about that accomplishment but even more excited about what it meant for his prospects at state.
"I knew if I got first, I'd be able to do well at state," he said.
"I'm seeded second now, but I feel like I can go win the whole thing."
Those are his expectations. His coach -- and dad -- Rob Morales joked that Tony's expectations were even higher than his. As a coach, he has to balance realistic expectations with putting pressure on his wrestlers to perform at the highest level. Too much in one direction can either cause a competitor to be too loose or too tight.
But Tony's expectations are centered on just one result.
"His expectations are to win," Rob Morales said. "Anything less than that, first place, is just not finishing. He had a great season last year, but then when he got to state, kids that he had beaten or outperformed all year, he wasn't able to beat. That left a bad taste in his mouth and has motivated him all year."
But after another year of experience, plus having already competed under the bright lights of the state competition, Tony feels like he is on track to accomplish something that has only been done once in Central's history.
"I just get chills thinking about it," he said. "I'd be the second one from Central. I've always looked up to (Central's other state winner) Luke Wilson. He was a senior when he won, and I'm only a sophomore now. Just knowing I can win, though, gives me a good feeling about it."
Tony said it's going to take being explosive and making sure his technique and timing is good.
"Technique beats strength," he said. "Timing always wins. We've just been drilling, trying to perfect what we know."
And as for whether last year may have a lingering effect in this state competition for his son, Rob Morales said he didn't think so.
"He's past it," he said. "I certainly hope he is. We're about to find out."
Smiths Station wrestling will also have four at the state Class 7A meet: Deon Morgan (120), Tyler Wilson (126), Austin Phillips (182) and Deondrae Williams (220).
Russell County sent one, Cameron Oglesby (106), in the Class 6A meet, which began Thursday.
Oglesby was eliminated after losing his first two matches.