Sixteen, still sweet: Polk Middle caps another perfect season with conference title
Published 12:25 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2024
Isaiah Staley walked around Polk County Middle’s gym Tuesday evening, the Blue Ridge Conference champions’ plaque wrapped securely in his arms.
“You going to take that home and sleep with it?” someone asked.
Staley just smiled, squeezed a little tighter and kept walking.
After all, you cradle that which is most precious. And, certainly, there was very much to cherish about the trophy wrapped in Staley’s arms.
There were those who doubted Polk Middle could repeat its 16-0 season of a year ago. There were those who doubted the Wolverines could take down an undefeated Canton Middle School team to which it lost back in the preseason.
To the naysayers, Polk Middle offered a 78-29 victory over the Bears, completing a second straight championship season with another 16-0 record and another BRC Dual title. It’s just the second time a Polk Middle team has recorded back-to-back perfect seasons, and the 32 consecutive wins may well be a school first for any program.
The record books can wait for another day, though. Celebration, joy, relief – those were the things that mattered Tuesday night.
“It hasn’t clicked yet,” said Polk Middle head coach Jerry Cox. “At some point, this is going to end, so we’ve got to start enjoying these wins as they come.
“I told the kids last year that we should have won a conference title. We had good wrestlers who had been wrestling 3-4 years. This year, we just outworked everybody. We worked ourselves into being an average to above average wrestlers. And it’s good to see when the kids that aren’t athletes show up and start winning matches.”
Canton was the championship opponent that Polk Middle both wanted and worried about. The Wolverines know the Bears well, not only from the loss in the Den Duals back in November but also from the club circuit, where Wolverine Wrestling Club and Haywood Elite routinely cross paths.
Canton Middle also romped through the regular season without a loss, then defeated Flat Rock in its semifinal match, closing out the Eagles on one side of Polk’s gym just before the Wolverines finished off Bethel Middle 72-27 on the other.
A random draw before the semifinals meant the championship match would begin with the 138-pound weight class. This aligned with what Cox and assistant Phillip Miller wanted, knowing Canton’s strength rested in the lower weights with standouts such as Cade Riddle and Bryson Chappell.
“We knew we could flex our muscles in the upper weights, just from facing them in the Den Duals and seeing them at tournaments,” Cox said. “So we knew we could flex our muscles there, and it just worked out where we pulled and we started there.
“If we would have done it the other way and started at something like 83, they could have won their four or five in a row and they could have flexed their muscle. So it was nice to start there.”
As flexes go, Polk Middle was fully pumped with both arms, muscles bulging and veins popping. Following a Canton win in the final’s first match, the Wolverines won the next nine encounters, all by pin, home fans growing louder with each victory in the wave. Staley started the run with a fall in the second period, Silas Amorelli ended it with another that gave Polk a 54-5 advantage (Canton lost a team point for a uniform violation) and clinched the Wolverines’ team triumph. Canton rebounded with four straight wins before Gavin Waldbillig, Gorden Threlfell and Jayvin Clark closed the night with victories.
“For middle school kids, they look up and it’s 48-6, it’s a confidence booster,” Cox said. “They’re like, oh wow, we’re in this, we’re in the conference championship and we’re up 48-6.”
Just before taking the championship plaque in hand, the Wolverines formed a dogpile atop Cox, throwing the head coach onto the mat and stacking wrestlers three and four high. Several members of last season’s team, along with Polk County High head coach Thomas Hensley, waited to celebrate.
Cox finally escaped from the pile. He didn’t seem to mind being at its bottom.
“I tell people I would never have made it anywhere else, because Polk County has really embraced the team and myself and people around me,” he said. “I’m privileged to be here.
“I’m just proud of this team. Proud of all of them.”