Undefeated Baylor sophomore Garrison Dendy wrestles against Bradley Central
(photo by C. B. Schmelter, timesfreepress.com)
The Baylor wrestling team is currently ranked 40th in the nation by InterMat Wrestling after a strong start to the 2019-2020 season that includes a second place finish at the prestigious Kansas City Stampede and a championship at the Prep Slam in Atlanta. InterMat is the "gold standard" website for ranking wrestling teams in the U.S., according to Baylor head coach Dr. Ben Nelson.
It is the Raiders' first ever appearance in the website's Fab 50 rankings but may not be the last. The lineup for the season so far includes only four seniors, three juniors, six sophomores, and three freshmen. "We have great senior leadership but also have a large group of young kids that are performing and contributing to the team effort," says Nelson. "They're not only getting better on the mat, but also getting the leadership they need from the seniors. As they move up from year to year, they will keep getting better and better. We have some that should be top-tier, not just in Tennessee but in the whole country, by the time they are seniors. Many are already making a splash on the national scene."
After a season-opening dual meet win over Signal Mountain, the Raiders blew through the Tullahoma Duals, beating Tullahoma, Buckhorn (Ala.) Clarksville, and Franklin, and then defeated Division I state powerhouse Bradley Central 49-15 on the road.
Just before exams, Baylor won the Buford (Ga.) Takedown Invitational by 128 points with a medalist in every weight class. Five Raider wrestlers won championships - senior Noah Horst (132) and sophomores Nick Corday (106), Jackson Bond (113), Garrison Dendy (138), and David Harper (195) - and five more were runners-up - seniors Connor Duffy (182) and Barrett Chambers (220), juniors Kade Hartline (120) and Sam Christensen (285), and freshman Anthony Mannella (152). Senior Chase Radpour (5th, 145), sophomore Gunnar Garriques (3rd, 170), and freshmen Micah Tisdale (4th, 126) and Omaury Alvarez (5th, 160) rounded out the medalist list.
A second place finish at the KC Stampede, a national-level tournament with one of the best reputations in the country, began the holiday break. Liberty (Mo.) was the champion with 600 team points and Baylor followed with 561.5. Tuttle (Okla.) was third at 560.5, Mustang (Okla.) was fourth, and Choctaw (Okla.) was fifth.
Dendy, undefeated on the season, was an individual champion for Baylor, beating Trey Crawford of Park Hill (Mo.) 7-1 for the title at 138 pounds. Runners-up were Duffy at 182 and Harper at 195. Corday was third at 104, Horst was fourth at 132, Alvarez was eighth at 160, Garriques was ninth at 170 pounds, sophomore Heath Snodgrass was 10th at 220, and Christensen finished 15th at 285.
"The KC Stampede features nationally-ranked teams and other teams that bring in quality individuals, kids that have been wrestling their whole life, tough, hard-nosed kids so it's a great place for our guys to kind of sharpen their blade and get great competition," Nelson said after taking his team to its best finish in five years of competing in the event. "Eight or nine matches in two days against some of the toughest wrestlers in the country is very valuable."
The Raiders began the new calendar year taking the championship at the Prep Slam, a regional-level tournament that features only independent prep schools, at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in Atlanta. Baylor beat Georgia's top-ranked team, Creekview, in a dual meet the night before the tournament.
Baylor had four individual Prep Slam champs - Corday at 106 pounds, Dendy at 138, Duffy at 182, and Harper at 195. Runners-up were Bond at 113 and Alvarez at 160 while Horst finished third at 132 pounds.
Baylor fans will remember that the Raiders won both the duals and the traditional state championships last year. Nelson says this team could be even better. "I think we'll be a more complete team this year. The young guys are filling in spots and competing at a high level so we have high expectations across the lineup. We have a good competitive squad."
Nelson says he will find out just how good his Raiders could be this weekend when they travel to New Jersey for the Blair Duals. Blair Academy, the number two team according to InterMat, will host five of the best teams in the country for a round robin of dual meets.
Also on the horizon for the hopeful Raiders is the annual Baylor-McCallie dual meet, Jan. 24 at McCallie, the state duals championships on Feb. 7 and 8 and the traditional state championships on Feb. 21 and 22.