After more than three months of grinding practices, matches and tournaments, the Lake Norman and Mooresville wrestling team's seasons come down to the final month of competition.
While both the Wildcats and the Blue Devils are amongst the top five teams in the state, what happens from here on out is what really matters to both coaches and their wrestlers.
"It's a new season starting now," said Lake Norman coach Morgan Fore. "Everything we came to accomplish is in front of us. Every match from here on out will be a battle. We have be to better than our competition."
The team's postseason begins Feb. 2 when Lake Norman travels to archrival Mooresville, where the I-Meck regular season won't be the only thing at stake.
The Wildcats, 28-1 overall, are No. 2 in the state and will try to outmuscle the Blue Devils, 22-1, and No. 4 in the state.
"It's amazing that two of the top five teams in the state are just eight miles apart in the same town," said Fore. "There is so much riding on this match from bragging rights, to a conference title and playoff position. But when it comes down to it, we just want to beat them and they want to beat us."
Both Lake Norman and Mooresville are littered with experienced talent as the Wildcats boast nine wrestler in the state's top 10 in their weight classes, while the Blue Devils have seven ranked wrestlers.
Lake Norman won both the regular season, tournament and 4A West regional titles last year, barely outlasting the runner-up Blue Devils for each one of those championships.
Expect nothing less than a fight to the finish Wednesday night and possibly again Saturday and in the playoffs.
While the regular season finale will decide the conference, it is just a part of an intense month for both teams.
The I-Meck tournament will be decided on Feb. 5 and then the state duals Feb. 8-12. The 4A West Regional will be Feb. 18-19, while the state individual tournament will be held in Greensboro Feb. 25-26.
With so much talent on their rosters, both teams should have wrestler at all of these events.
After a school-record 33 wins last season, the Wildcats returned most of an experienced lineup this year that in turn meant even higher expectations for the 2010-11 season.
So far, Lake Norman has lived up to the hype, as the Wildcats have won four tournaments and look prime to make another impressive postseason run.
Eight of the 14 Lake Norman starters are seniors including two-time defending state champion Harrison Honeycutt (215 pounds) and defending 4A regional champion, Josh Smith (160), who has started the year with a perfect 34-0 record. Both Honeycutt and Smith are No. 1 in their respective weight classes according to retrorankings.com.
But the elite talent doesn't stop there as sophomore Cody Karns (103) is also the top wrestler in the weight.
Seniors Hunter Dowless (171), Collin Foster (189), Alex Henry (152), Mike Hayes (145), Ryan Renfroe (125) and Nick Rodrigues (140) are all also ranked in their respective top 10 and feel they can compete with anyone.
"We know we have a chance to do something special and win it all," said Fore, whose team wants to repeat as conference and regionals champions and win states. "But we have to be at the top of our game for the next month."
While it seems like a daunting task just to win their conference title and be the best team in the county, Mooresville feels they can be just as good or better than Lake Norman.
The Blue Devils, led by head coach Ben Watson, have the talent and experience to win every event they enter, as Mooresville has won five tournaments already this season.
Senior Tyler Bruton, ranked No. 2 at the 160-pound class, and classmate Hunter Hefner, No. 4 at 145-pounds, headline a talented group.
Hefner is the defending 4A Westregional champion, while Bruton was the runner-up to Lake Norman's Josh Smith.
Like the Wildcats, Mooresville is deep in talent with seniors Bryson Luffman (189) and Connor Osbourne (171), juniors Zach Brown (285) and Matt Krider (119) and sophomore Sam Crisp (103) amongst the state's top 10 in the state.
After being one of the top programs in the area for some time, Mooresville is eager to prove they belong amongst the state's elite again. The opportunity to do starts next week.