SouthLake Christian's wrestling program has seen its fair share of success the last few years - but never as much as this season.
Four Eagles - sophomore Chris Green (106 pounds), freshman Hamilton Hewitt (138), junior Sam Bryant (152) and senior Scott Richardson (220) - claimed state titles earlier this month to lead SouthLake to a second-place finish at the state's private school meet.
"We have four kids who have accomplished something very important in their lives," said Nerness.
"It's a big deal for us."
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With three of its four state champs returning next year, the future seems to be bright for Eagles' wrestling, said coach John Nerness, who has been with the program since it began as a club team that practiced on a 16-by-16-foot mat seven years ago.
"Hopefully the floodgates are starting to open, and we can have many more state champions," said Nerness.
SouthLake also returns two more wrestlers who placed at states, third-place finishers Kyle Summer, a 120-pound freshman, and Brian Jones, a 182-pound junior. Senior Cody Tucker (132) also placed for the Eagles, finishing fourth in his weight class.
Although the team had the most first-place finishers at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship, SouthLake finished second to Charlotte Latin by seven points.
Nerness said he and Latin coach Richard Fletcher, who had six of his wrestlers reach their respective championship matches, knew it was going to be close down the stretch.
"It's probably a mixed bag for the both of us," said Nerness. "I was disappointed because we obviously wanted to win that state title, but we finished in a high note because everyone we put in the finals ended up winning."
Bryant said he was pleased that his teammates, even the ones who were in the consolation bracket, never gave up.
"We know that everybody did their best," the 17-year-old said. "We should really be proud of everybody."
Green credits his team's success in the work they put in during the offseason, explaining that the Eagles spent the summer in the weight room as well as participating in offseason tournaments and taking part in the Virginia Tech summer camp.
Nerness said Green, who finished the year 29-4, is a technical wrestler and also a hard-worker.
"He's a tough wrestler, he'll beat kids on the mat," said Nerness. "But he's humble about his winning. He's just a great kid to work with."
The 22-8 Hewitt, who finished fourth at the state meet as an eighth-grader last season, had a tough bracket this year, starting the tournament as the fifth-seeded wrestler in his weight class. He went on to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to win the state championship.
Nerness said Hewitt has been successful because of his aggressiveness.
"He has more of a brawling style," said Nerness. "If anything, he gets in trouble for being over-aggressive."
Hewitt said his older brother, Joe, who was ridden with shoulder injuries his last two years at SouthLake after being a two-time state runner-up, inspired him to win the championship.
"I felt like this season I had to work hard so that I could win that for him because he never got to," the 15-year-old said.
After not placing last year, Bryant pushed himself in the offseason and finished 39-5 on the season.
"He's a workhorse," said Nerness. "He trains all the time in the weight room, on the mat. He's just a story of dedication."
Bryant went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed and defeated No. 1 Sam Pruett, from Wesleyan Christian, in overtime for the championship.
Richardson, who finished the year 22-3 and was his bracket's No. 1 seed, stands out because of his power, said Nerness.
"He's ridiculously strong," the coach said. "He's got to be one of the strongest 220-pounders in the state. The kid dead-lifts over 600 pounds."
Nerness said that the success that SouthLake Christian's first state wrestling champ, Sam Remick, last year may have given his kids a confidence boost going into this season..
"It definitely showed us that a little private school can compete and win against anybody," said Hewitt.
With the Eagles having seen so much success this season, Nerness said he hopes his wrestlers are inspired to work even harder and continue to develop a culture that recognizes that hard work and dedication really matter.
"As a coach, one gets excited about the potential because you have a bunch of guys who are willing to put up the time and pay the price to keep SouthLake going and go for a state title," said Nerness.