Brenden Brown had a feeling it just might come down to his own match.
The Kannapolis A.L. Brown senior and his opponent in the 125-pound weight class were last on the slate of matches when the Wonders squared off against perennial conference championship contender Mount Pleasant Jan. 4.
Not only did Brenden Brown's win by decision tip the team score in Kannapolis' favor, he won his match in a manner that exemplifies the Wonders' season.
As a result of a strategic coaching move, Brown wrestled one weight higher than his usual class, so that his team had a better chance of winning.
Few in number but willing to make those kinds of adjustments, this year's Wonders clinched their first state dual team playoff berth since 2007, and its second in the past 13 years. They finished second in the South Piedmont Conference standings and will open the 3A state tournament against Newton Foard on Tuesday.
The team has just 17 wrestlers on its roster. So it's not surprising that Kannapolis has to regularly forfeit three of the 14 weight classes every match.
Consequently, it's not unusual for team victories to come by narrow margins, since A.L. Brown theoretically starts each match in an 18-point hole. (Each individual win counts six points toward the team's score for the match.) Carrying a 17-14 overall record, however, the Wonders lost just one conference match, to defending champion Concord Robinson.
Coming to terms with the fact that A.L. Brown's athletic tradition is embedded primarily in football, three seniors have established a legacy they believe they can share with graduating classes from the recent past who laid the foundation.
"The people that were here our freshman and sophomore years," said senior Allan Wagner, "... like Justin Nagpal (class of 2008), Morgan McDaniel (2009), Josh Kimball (2008) and Jonathan Donatien (2009), helped us get better."
As the team's only state qualifier last year, Brenden Brown is the team's most decorated wrestler. He finished third at the 3A Midwest regional but lost both of his matches at the state tournament.
This season, Brown has posted a 30-6 record, making him one of four Wonders with at least 30 wins. Classmates Wagner and Shane Harris have put together equally solid seasons.
Wagner is one of the leading examples of sacrificing for the team. His actual weight is well short of his 215-pound weight class, but he didn't hesitate to bump so that Harris could compete in his more natural 189-pound class.
Wagner was just one win short of qualifying for the state meet last year and has won 29 of 32 matches this season. The fireplug-built Harris is 18-2 and has made perhaps the greatest improvement since his freshman year.
"My freshman year, I was fat," Harris said, smiling. "I would get tired a lot. I know my moves (now) and I can see things better. Everything comes naturally to me now."
Some younger teammates are piecing together fine seasons, too, including 103-pound freshman Richard White (32-7 record) and juniors Nathan Sexton (130, 30-9) and Patrice Donatien (125, 33-6), who has a 23-match winning streak.
Last year, the team considered its win over Northwest Cabarrus a milestone. The Wonders tied for second place in the conference but lost out on a chance for the state dual team playoffs by a tiebreaker.
This season, Kannapolis repeated its win over the Trojans but added the win over Mount Pleasant, considered to be another landmark victory for the Wonders' program.
"It's just gratifying. It's fun," said coach Jerome Davis, a Northwest Cabarrus graduate. "...We'll go to the state playoffs and see what happens. Have a little fun, give someone a fit."