ENTERPISE --- Zach McFarland has been there. Colby Clark has burned to get there for a year.
Those two Enterprise High wrestlers will represent the Wildcats at the state tournament at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville this weekend.
McFarland, a sophomore who wrestles at 113 pounds, and Clark, a senior at 195, advanced to state with their performances at last weekend’s sectionals in Montgomery.
EHS head coach Matt Pipkins said McFarland and Clark aren’t just a year bigger and stronger, but they’re much more experienced wrestlers in the program’s second season.
“This is the second time Zach’s qualified for state,” Pipkins said. “He’s wrestled just about everybody in his bracket.
“Colby was close to reaching state last year, one win away. I think that was a big goal he set for himself and he definitely achieved it.”
Clark, one win away from qualifying for state last year, lost in his last match at the sectionals a year ago. He said it set up exactly the same way last weekend.
“I won one and I lost one,” the senior said. “I had to win one more to go to state. At first, I was getting pretty emotional. I didn’t know if it was going to be my last match or not.”
He was matched against Smiths Station’s Michael Mellage and hadn’t wrestled him before.
“I took him down early and he seemed a little more human to me,” Clark said. “I beat him on points (19-7) – and almost pinned him at the end.”
Clark wrestled at 182 last year and jumped a weight class to 195 this season.
“I did a lot more strength stuff,” Clark said. “I’m the same height but I was 182 last year and a lot weaker, not much endurance. I’ve been running and training for different sports. I’m in ROTC and we stay in pretty good shape.”
Besides the physical improvement, Clark has a season of experience that has been invaluable.
“A big difference from last year, I was super nervous before each match. It was super nerve-racking,” Clark said. “This year, I try to just go in there and have fun. You do way better than if you make too much out of this match. If you go out there and have fun you’ll do the best you can do. I think that’s what made me so much better than last year.”
Pipkins noted Clark definitely put the work in.
“Last year he was enjoying himself -- losses, wins, he came off with pretty much the same reaction. This year he’s been more focused on actually trying to win and being more competitive,” the coach said.
“He’s been working really hard in here, in the weight room. He’s in ROTC so he definitely stays in shape. He’s been a lot more focused on winning and trying to get to state. I couldn’t have asked any better from him.”
The coach added Clark’s improvement is tied to his aggression.
“He’s been really tough when he gets on top,” Pipkins said. “Last year he was happy-go-lucky. This year he’s been mean on top. He’s probably the strongest guy on our team and he’s used that strength to his advantage.”
The wrestlers will begin Friday morning. Each weight class has eight wrestlers, so the champions will have to win three matches – quarterfinals, semifinals and finals – to earn a championship. Wrestlers who lose early can keep wrestling in the loser’s bracket, but can finish no higher than third.
McFarland recalls the nerves that a state tournament can produce. That experience should help him this weekend.
“Last year, my second match at state was just awful,” McFarland said. “It was like, I had so many nerves and wasn’t using any technique at all. It was really bad last year. Now, I already have the mindset that I have a shot at placing.”
He is seeded third after a very fine 35-5 season. He has wrestled five of other seven competitors in his bracket at 113, though he hasn’t wrestled his opening opponent, Christopher Hays of Vestavia Hills (Jr., 25-8).
“It’s weird because you’re not going to have a ‘practice match’ because everybody’s good there,” the sophomore said. “It’s the top eight in the state who go.”
He said he takes much more confidence to Huntsville than last year.
“I have a lot more confidence and experience now,” McFarland said. “Last year there were a lot of moves I didn’t know how to get out of. Now, I know how to. It should work out.”
McFarland could see Thompson sophomore Yanni Vines. Again.
“He beat me at sectionals,” he said, noting the kind of collision course the two have been on since Vines beat him a year ago at both sections and state. Vines (So., 45-4) also beat him at sections last week.
“I’m 113 weight class, up from 106 last year. Yanni was 106, too, last year at state. We both moved up and we’re both in the same grade, so we could wrestle each other every single year.
“He’s experienced, he wrestles top tier elite. You can’t really scout him because he doesn’t make that many mistakes. If I have him it will be in the finals.”
Pipkins said McFarland’s focus is probably his most improved asset.
“Last year he went out there and wrestled, but sometimes matches got in his head a little bit,” the coach said. “He’s matured a little bit and is more focused on what he needs to do to win, rather than really focusing on losses as much. He takes everything in stride and keeps going.”
Clark, who has amassed a 33-11 record this season, opens up with the top seed in 195, Thompson’s Michael Jackson (Sr., 38-5).