Ridge Runners

Former Governor guides Greenback to improbable title

By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Knoxville — At the conclusion of each match, Justin Ridge allowed himself another glance at the leaderboard.

It was no longer only possible Greenback could do this. It was happening.

"After the semifinal round, I was counting every point," the Cherokee wrestling coach said. "I really got into it."

Junior Silas Burchett delivered a clinching victory at 152 pounds, and Greenback shocked the area wrestling community by edging Seymour, 174.5-171, for the Region II championship last Saturday at Catholic High School. In only its sixth season of wrestling, Greenback would see four wrestlers — Jeremy Miller, 103 pounds, Gary Sluder, 112, Eddie Long, 119, and Burchett — claim region individual titles. Miller, an eighth-grader, claimed his region crown by pinning Farragut’s Ethan Farinella.

Jackie Miller would claim a silver medal for the Cherokees at 171 pounds. Completing a dominating day for the tiny school with a 255 high school enrollment, Long was named the meet’s outstanding wrestler, with Sluder’s 13-11 overtime victory of William Blount’s Kramer Drollman named best match.

Ridge, a William Blount High School graduate in his fourth season as Cherokee coach, said Greenback’s chances of doing the improbable began to take shape after the semifinal round, at which point the Cherokees sat atop the leaderboard for the first time in school history.

Only Sluder, region champion a year ago, had ever reached the finals.

"The fact that the team was on the line going into the finals had a lot to do with them wrestling the way they did," Ridge said.

By comparison, William Blount, which finished third Saturday, has an enrollment of 1,567, fourth place Maryville 1,193 and fifth place Bearden 1,661. Runner-up Seymour has an 849 student population.

Twenty-five schools took part in the meet, among them long-standing area powers Farragut, seventh, and Halls, 10th.

"I feel like I’m on Cloud 9," Sluder said. "There’s nothing better. We’re just a little K-through-12 school putting it together by
working hard."

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