You can always tell when they make it to the awards stand.
When Shawn Morgan got there last Saturday night, he smiled. He smiled a lot.
Minutes earlier, the Maryville High School senior had fallen, 9-3, in the championship match at 285 pounds at the TSSAA state wrestling tournament at the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Arena.
The match had turned on the flip of a coin to begin the second period. Bradley Central’s Patrick Benson had won the choice and chosen the down position for the restart. A hard-won escape, and it was 1-0 in a match expected to be close, forcing Morgan to press.
“I wanted to get a little ahead before the third period,” he said, “so I went for it, got a little bit greedy. I figured, ‘It’s the state finals.’
“I took a shot, but it was sloppy. Had I got in on it, it would have been different.”
When the referee’s whistle blew the bout to a close a period later, Morgan braced himself on his fists and lowered his head. After surgery on both shoulders and a year of preparation, he would finish just short.
The Morgan/Benson match, the last of the evening, brought the four-day tournament to a close. Several minutes lapsed as officials cleared the arena floor to make ready for the medals presentation. Morgan used the time to sit and talk with his father, Eric, a Maryville orthopedist, in the wrestler’s locker room.
“He wrestled in the final match,” Eric said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this kid. This is the first healthy season he’s ever had.”
It was all the preparation he’d put in that made the first few minutes after the match so disappointing, Shawn said. A week earlier, he’d beaten Benson in the regional final. He’d given it his all and reached the state finals for the first time.
When it came time to make his way to the awards stand, Morgan began to think back on the two shoulder surgeries. He remembered all the work he’d put in to come back. He remembered going to an unfamiliar gym while on vacation just so he could work out. He remembered the camps. He remembered no Maryville heavyweight had ever come this far before.
“Just to be with this group is something,” he said.
Then, Shawn Morgan smiled. He smiled a lot.
Maryville coach Mark Humphrey said he could find little fault in Morgan’s approach to the championship match. Benson and Morgan had split two previous meetings this season. With the last contest coming only a week ago, they knew each other well. The opening period of the championship match saw neither willing to risk much, both feinting moves and remaining on their feet to await the coin flip.
“The difference in the match was when we took the shot at the end of the second period, and it didn’t work,” Humphrey said.
Playing it safe until the third-round restart, where Morgan would have the choice, wasn’t much of an option, Humphrey said.
“If you do that, it’s going to overtime, 1-1,” he said. “Then they would have the advantage.”
While Morgan was the only member of a 12-strong Blount County contingent to reach last Saturday’s finals, a total of four would leave state tournament medalists.
Maryville’s Nick Ogle wrestled his way to third at 135 pounds, defeating Signal Mountain’s Logan Henley, 5-4, in the consolation finals. The Rebel grappler’s bronze medal came a year after he was eliminated from the tournament in the opening round.
“I came back this year prepared and ready to medal,” Ogle said.
Battling through a toughened-up region that includes state powers Cleveland and Bradley Central the last two years had a lot to do with that, Humphrey said.
“I think he’s probably wrestled better this weekend than he’s ever wrestled,” he said. “The competition he’s had the last two weeks has brought out the best in him.”
Heritage sophomore Keegan Matlock secured a sixth-place finish, becoming the first medalist for the Mountaineers in a decade. The showing has him motivated to push even harder in the offseason, Matlock said.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I just did what I’ve been taught to do. It makes me want to do a lot more wrestling over the summer.”
William Blount sophomore T.J. Satterfield suffered broken bones in his left elbow and wrist in a consolation bracket match late Friday and would be forced to forfeit the third-place bout at 215 on Saturday.
“I really didn’t know it was broken,” Satterfield said. “Just the adrenaline kept me going. I’ll just keep working hard to be a two-time state champion.”
Satterfield is believed to be only the fourth state medalist in Governor history, following 1985 runner up Tom Clark, Tim Townsend (1992) and Jacob Holley (2008).
“We’ll take fourth place in the state and live to fight another day,” William Blount coach Tim Satterfield said.
Had he won Saturday’s final, Morgan said he was prepared to walk away from wrestling and concentrate on academics in college, but not now. Wherever he goes, he said, a wrestling program is a must.
“That sealed the deal,” Morgan said. “I’m not ending with a loss.”
If the journey counts for anything, that didn’t happen last Saturday, either.