Cody Karns has made an impact on the wrestling mat since he arrived at Lake Norman High.
Placing fourth in the state in the 103-pound weight class as a freshman and following that up with a third-place finish last season, the junior hopes the third time is the charm so that he's able to claim a coveted state championship later this month.
"The main goal is to win it all this year," said Karns. "That's been my motivation."
Karns, the No. 1-ranked 113-pounder in 4A according to retrorankings.com, is well on his way, starting the year with a 43-1 record and dominating most of his competition along the way.
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The 5-foot-4 Karns goes out on the mat on a mission, trying to score early points to get the upper hand. He excels on his feet, aggressively looking to get takedowns, and on the top position, from where he can work his tilts to get near falls.
"He's very relentless," said Lake Norman coach Morgan Fore. "He's constantly on the attack. ... He can be very exciting to watch."
Karns' aggressiveness has paid off, as he leads the state and is second in the nation with 21 technical falls - "mercy rule" style wins awarded when a wrestler gets a 15-point lead in a match.
He leads the team in take downs, as his 97 to start the year are 30 more than any other Wildcat. Karns also broke his own school record for most near falls in a season, having 110 already - three more than the he had all of last season.
The 17-year-old also holds a share of the Wildcats' record for most wins in a season with 53, which he set last year. The competitive Karns hopes to claim that outright this season.
"I think I should definitely be able to break that record," he said. "That'd be a good one to get."
Karns began wrestling in kindergarten, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps. Ron Karns, who serves as the Wildcats' associate head coach and has guided his son nearly his entire life, was a Junior All-American and a two-time Pennsylvania Greco Roman state champion.
He added that he enjoys having his dad around to push him at practices and at home. Karns said his dad's successes have motivated him to work hard.
Aside from practicing with the Wildcats, Karns also works out on his own and with his year-round wrestling club.
Fore said that Karns' work ethic is one of the main reasons he's been able to perform at a high level.
"He's just a driven person," said Fore. "Be it school work, be it wrestling, he always puts a lot of pressure on himself. He expects to be successful."
Fore said that Karns has developed because he's sought out to wrestle top competition competitors during the offseason.
Although he's had more than 190 wins at Lake Norman and has had several marquee wins this season, Karns knows he has room to grow.
He said his only loss of the year, to a Pennsylvania wrestler at the King of the Mat tournament at North Davidson in December, showed his main weakness.
"When I get down early in the match, for some reason it's hard for me to come back," said Karns. "I think that's what happened then."
But Karns' success has helped his team tremendously, as he's contributed a team-high 220 points for his Wildcats this year.
That's been big for a Lake Norman team that lost nine starters, including six state placers, from last year team.
Although Fore said the team could still improve, he said the Wildcats' 27-4 start has impressed him.
"We've overachieved, compared to what some people thought we were going to do," said Fore.
"I think we're peaking at the right time."
With the help of 220-pound junior Jackson Dowless (41-6), 182-pounder Jonathan DiBernard (39-8) and 145-pound senior Patrick Devlin (36-10), the team was well on its way to its goal of winning the regular-season I-Meck title heading into last Friday's dual match against Hough. The Wildcats will face rival Mooresville today to close out the regular season.
Karns said that he sees potential in his team as they move onto the I-Meck tournament, which takes place Saturday, and the rest of the postseason.
"We could have some state placers here for sure, definitely have some guys up in the podium," said Karns.
He hopes that his two previous trips to the state meet will help him achieve his ultimate goal.
"That experience of being there before will help you to get further and stay focused on winning it," said Karns.