Josh Smith expects to win every time he steps on the mat.
For the last two seasons, the Lake Norman senior wrestler has gone 74-3, capturing an I-Meck title (individual and team) and a 4A Western Regional title in getting 66 wins for his Wildcat team.
But for Smith (41-0 this season), it is what he hasn't done that drives him.
This year, his senior season, nothing short of an individual state championship will meet his standard.
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"Absolutely, I want to win the individual state championship," said Smith, who is 153-22 in his career at Lake Norman. "That is what I have been working for, for several years now."
Smith and his Lake Norman team have the firepower to not only win a 4A Western Regional title again, but also the state (individual) as nine Wildcats wrestlers are ranked in the top 10, according to retrorankings.com. Three are in the No. 1 spot in their weight class: Smith (160), fellow senior Harrison Honeycutt (215) and sophomore Cody Karns (103).
Six other seniors, including Hunter Dowless (171), Collin Foster (189), Mike Hayes (145), Alex Henry (152), Ryan Renfroe (125) and Nick Rodrigues (140) are in the top 10 of their respective weight classes.
Smith said just competing to be one of the best on his Lake Norman team is a tough task.
"We have solid people every weight class from 103-pounds to heavyweight," Smith said. "When you train with good wrestlers all of the time, it's going to make you a better wrestler."
While most of the headlines about Lake Norman are centered around two-time defending state champion, Harrison Honeycutt, Smith has been right on the heels of his accomplishments for the last two-plus seasons.
"Josh is a very talented kid, who has been as good as just about anyone on our team the last couple years," said Lake Norman wrestling coach Morgan Fore. "(Josh) is a great leader in the practice and in matches."
While a lot of Smith's wrestling talent and ability has come through hard work, it is also a family tradition.
Smith's older brother, Aaron, a 2009 graduate, also starred at Lake Norman as a three-time North Piedmont Conference champion and is now wrestling at UNC Greensboro. Their father, Skip, was a Division II All-American in college at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
"I've been wrestling since I was in the second grade," said Smith. "I grew around the sport, because of my dad and my brother. Wrestling has always been what I wanted to do."
Smith also hopes to follow in his family's footsteps as a college wrestler and is receiving strong interest from Appalachian State, N.C. State, UNC Greensboro, Northern Illinois and Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But first, Smith and company have two more weeks of high school competition including the 4A Western Regional on Feb. 19 and the state individual tournament in Greensboro on Feb. 25-26.
His main obstacle likely will be his archrival, Mooresville's Tyler Bruton, who is ranked No. 2 in the state in the 160-pound weight class. Smith and Bruton have had some epic matches the last few years, including a two-overtime thriller in the I-Meck regular-season finale and conference tournament, where Smith barely pulled out two wins.
In the end, Smith believes he will have the gold medal on his chest.
"In wrestling, you have to be confident in yourself or you have no chance," he said. "I definitely feel like I have a good chance to win it all, and I am going to go out there and fight for it."
This story went to print before the 4A state duals tournament concluded last weekend.