JEFFERSON — What is it that motivates a squad to excel and peak in time to win a championship every season?
Is it harder to find motivation to win after winning has become the norm?
For the Jefferson Dragons’ wrestling program, these questions are put to the test year after year.
The Dragons, winners of the traditional state championship every season since 2001 and dual state championship every season since 2002, are primed and ready to go for a new season.
“We’ll see how long it keeps going,” head coach Doug Thurmond said. “It has been a nice ride.”
Thurmond says repeating as champion is motivating enough to coach his squad to be the best they can be.
And, the wrestlers’ motivation: not being the squad that breaks the championship chain.
“They don’t want to be remembered as the team that broke it. They’re motivated in that sense,” Thurmond said. “And, another big motivator is these are different kids.
“We have a good group of freshmen that are coming in and they want to be on a state championship team. That’s what they’ve been shooting for, hoping it happens ever since they’ve been involved in our wrestling program. It’s new to them. A lot of the upper classmen don’t want to be the one to break it, but also, they want to try and win it four times, their four years (at Jefferson).”
Jefferson has several wrestlers returning from last year’s squad, making it tough to project who will emerge as the team’s brightest stars this season.
Two are back from injury: senior Ben Kelly and junior Mitchel McGhee.
“Both of them are two very good wrestlers,” Thurmond said.
Kelly won a state championship in the 2012-13 season and McGhee was undefeated last year before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Senior and two-time state champion Chase Piperato is also back, as is defending state champion Caleb Little, a sophomore.
Thurmond said he never answers the question of will they or won’t they win another state championship, but the Dragons are preparing as if they are going to accomplish that feat.
“Whatever they do is up to them,” he said.
Thurmond also said it is going to be hard to figure out where everybody falls weight-wise, especially for the returners who have been on the football field since the summer.
The coach is always mindful about team chemistry and rapport, though the competitors generally get along well, he said.
Injuries are another cause for concern each year.
“Those things can happen and sometimes they come in a snowball effect,” Thurmond said. “Those are the things, as a coach, you have to worry about.
“There’s nothing you can do about them, but needless to say, you’re going to worry about them whether you want too or not. You try to put it out of your mind. And, you can say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about that,’ but you still have that in the back of your mind.”
Jefferson began the season on Wednesday at Central Gwinnett High School and will compete in The Panthers Invitational at Jackson County on Friday and Saturday.