Forsyth Central senior Jordan Schaller has been waiting his entire high school career to wrestle in the state individual tournament. Injuries in his last two seasons robbed him of that opportunity, giving him one last shot in 2014 to reach that goal.
Healthy, experienced and motivated, Schaller advanced from areas to sectionals, where he finished sixth at the 182 pounds class — earning him a ticket to the Class AAAAA Traditional Wrestling Tournament that starts today and concludes tomorrow.
His expectations moving forward are tempered — as are those of teammate Carson Pillow, who has also qualified for his first state tournament — but to simply get this far is a tremendous accomplishment for these two.
"This year, it was now or never," said Schaller. "It feels great to make it happen. I knew I had a job to do. I got down some times and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I just kept going."
"I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do."
Pillow, competing at 170, also finished sixth at sectionals. As a junior he doesn’t feel the same urgency as Schaller, and will go into state with a more relaxed mindset.
"Sectionals got pretty intense and took a lot from me," he said. "But I’ve met my goal, so whatever happens, I’m happy."
Head coach Jeremiah Walker, who is in his first campaign with the Bulldogs, has been trying to revive a program that has struggled of late. Central won three straight county championships from 2005-06 to 2007-08 but hasn’t won since—struggling considerably since that streak.
Qualifying three wrestlers for state is an improvement from 2012-13, albeit a small one. If Nathan Kistler, Schaller or Pillow can make some noise this weekend, however, it will give a youthful program good reason to be optimistic moving forward.
"I came into this season with the understanding that we would be extremely young," Walker said back in December. "We would have a completely different team dynamic, and a lot of these guys have been learning."
Joining Schaller and Pillow is Kistler, who knows what it’s like to wrestle at state. He competed there last year and returns again after finishing seventh at sectionals in the 113 class.
In addition to Central’s three wrestlers, North will send nine qualifiers to state, South will send five and Lambert will send three. Lambert’s Matthew Sheetz, who won the 106 pound bracket at East Sectionals last Saturday, is the top seed in Class AAAAAA.
Kistler, who was under the weather at the time, lost both of his state tournament matches last winter. With a lot more matches under his belt, he plans to use that trying experience to aid him this weekend.
"It was good for me," he said of his time at the 2013 state tournament. "Now I know what’s going to happen for the next two years. Now I’m healthy and excited."
Unlike his teammates, Kistler has set the bar high moving forward. He isn’t happy with merely making it to state; rather, he expects to be among the best in his weight class—perhaps even the champion.
"At least placing would be nice," he said. "But the goal is always to win."