Pulaski Academy's wrestling program has been one of Arkansas' top programs since the sport was sanctioned in the state in 2009.
But the Bruins still are looking for their first team title in the 1A-5A classification.
The Little Rock private school finished second to Greenbrier 277-229.5 last year despite having four individual state champions.
Three of the individual state winners returned this season -- juniors Michael Crockett, Layne Hatcher and James Noel. Noel's brother, Nick, graduated after earning four individual titles in his career.
They'll attempt to lead the Bruins to their first team title in the ninth annual Arkansas state wrestling tournament, which begins today at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
First-round and quarterfinal matches are today, and the semifinals and championship matches take place Saturday. There are two classifications in Arkansas, the 1A-5A and the 6A-7A.
Pulaski Academy Coach Bruce Dickey said his team's goal always is to win the state title.
"I don't like finishing second," he said. "I'm not satisfied with mediocrity. I'm not going to quit until I win that thing. I won't quit after that.
"I want to win the darn thing. That's all there is to it."
Crockett, who won the 126-pound individual 1A-5A title last year, didn't mince words when it came to the Bruins' team loss to Greenbrier.
"They beat us and that p****d us all off," said Crockett, who is wrestling in the 132-pound weight class this year.
Hatcher and James Noel are two-time state wrestling champions. Noel won in the 152-pound class in 2015 and the 160-pound class last season. Hatcher, a two-time state champion quarterback at Pulaski Academy, earned titles in the 170- and 182-pound classes the past two seasons.
This season, Noel is wrestling in the 170-pound class while Hatcher is at 195.
"We're ready for this," said Hatcher, who is 46-0 this season. "We're in great shape. Our team is really strong. We have a shot to bring it home. We should bring it home if we wrestle like we should.
"I feel confident and ready to go," said Noel, 34-1 in 2017.
Noel's goal this weekend is simple: Beat the Panthers.
"We're wrestling against all of the teams in the state, but we're going to the tournament wanting to beat Greenbrier," Noel said.
Hatcher said he's still upset about losing to Greenbrier and hopes his team makes up for the 2016 loss.
"Greenbrier is a great team, and they'll give us all we want," Hatcher said. "But we believe it's between us and them for the state title.
"We believe we can beat them if we wrestle like we're capable of. They can beat us if they wrestle like they're capable of. But I think our toughness is there and our hard work is there. Everything is there. We just have to go grab it."
Sports on 02/17/2017
Print Headline: PA wrestlers aim to pin down title