By Brian Paglia
For the last few years, wrestling in Henry County has been dominated by two teams with two coaches well-established in the Southern Crescent. Union Grove coach Joey DiNino and Henry County coach Marty Hutsell have had annual state title contenders and multiple individual state champions. Success has almost been a foregone conclusion.
But Union Grove and Henry County were hit hard by graduation this season, leaving the door open for another team to emerge.
That team appears to be Ola, for the Mustangs return with a wealth of talent and unmatched experience in the Southern Crescent.
"I'm sure Ola" is the team to beat, Hutsell said. "The majoriy of their kids are seniors. They've got to be the best team in the county."
That's the assessment from the outside. From the inside, Ola coach Anthony Partello sees things differently. For now.
"My assessment right now is that I really don't know where they're at," Partello said. "I know as a team where we're at, and as a team we can go toe-to-toe with anybody.
If we're on, we can beat everybody.
"But like anybody, they're kids. If they don't focus they can lose matches that we should easily have won."
That's Ola mission this season, to maintain a focus they didn't have at times during back-to-back fifth place finishes in the state duals tournament.
Case in point: A simple penalty cost the Mustangs a chance to advance to the finals last season.
"We've got a lot of talent," Partello said, "but if you don't stay focused you don't win."
Through this season's opening stretch, Ola battled issues of focus in losses to Murray and Sonoraville. But that's been the anomaly. The Mustangs are sitting at 14-2 in duals with marquee victories against Union Grove, Eastside, Gordon Lee and Sody Daisey, a state finalist from Tennessee last season.
Going into tomorrow's South Metro Invitational at Locust Grove, one dominated by Union Grove the past five years, the Mustangs are rallying behind a belief that their time has finally come.
"We want to win," Ola wrestler Joey Carman said. "This is our first year we can actually win."
"This is how I can measure them individually," Partello said of the South Metro.
"I know where we're at as a team. I know where I'm at as a coach. I don't know where I'm at individually with each kid."
Well, to help, there is the deep core of seniors, led by Carman. The heavyweight is a two-time state placer at 189 and 215 and 15-0 this season. But there's also seniors Tim Feltman (189/215), Glen Knutt (189/215), Charlie Smith (125/130), Kody Arnold (145/152) and Chris Upchurch (119).
Four years ago they were freshman during the program's inaugural season. Partello found himself looking to many in that group for leadership even then. Now, they are the vanguard in Ola's most promising season.
Partello said four individual state champions and as many as 11 state placers is possible. And Carman said he and his teammates have the proper attitude to meet those expectations.
"Everybody we wrestle we want to complete destroy," Carman said.