Munford High School wrestling coach David Cline does not mince words when he’s talking to his wrestlers.
“I get a lot of push back on how I am because I’m very honest,” Cline said. “It’s one of those sport where if you know the kids wrestling you can almost always tell who’s going to win. I’ll sit the kids down a lot and say you’re not good enough, you need to get better.”
So, when Cline sat down his wrestlers before their sectional match at home Saturday against Sycamore, which was ranked third in the state (Munford was 12th) in Class A, and told then he thought they could win by 30, they believed him.
Munford beat Sycamore 43-31, winning eight of 14 matches, to qualify for the state duals for the first time since 1997. The Cougars will take on Greeneville on Saturday at 9 a.m. in Franklin in a quarterfinal match.
Wemawamungu Moktani, the state’s No.1-ranked wrestler at 132 pounds, beat Sycamore’s Dylan Davenport (ranked No. 1 at 126) 9-0 in a key match. Munford’s Justin Cavanaugh won by pin to clinch the win with two matches to go.
“It was a giant adrenaline rush,” Moktani, who goes by Mo, said about the moment he knew his team was headed to state. “I still had to wrestle but I was thinking two more matches and we’re going to state. It was amazing.”
“I was really amped,” said Munford senior Jermyah Davis. “I was thinking it’s my senior year, we get to take the team state and we have a chance to win a state championship. I was hopping around, cheering my teammates.”
“I was really happy and excited,” said junior Carter Sisco. “My blood was pumping.”
Sycamore entered the sectional match with five state meet appearances since Munford’s last appearance and was probably a little surprised to get knocked off by Munford.
“They shouldn’t have been surprised,” said Davis. “You’re coming to our house, our territory. I told my teammates before we went out there, ‘This is our house, let’s protect it.'”
Munford earned the right to host the sectional match by beating Millington Thursday in the regionals. A win by Christian Perez over a higher-ranked Millington wrestler (Garrett Haley) was a big reason Munford won its first-ever region title.
“To be honest, I don’t really care about rankings,” Perez said. “It all comes down what happens when you get on the mat.”
It’s bean an impressive and quick rise to state relevance for the Munford wrestling program. After a few years without a team, the program was rebooted eight years ago. The program has gotten better and better each season under Cline, who was hired six years ago. Multiple wrestlers have qualified for the individual state meet the last few years.
A big reason for the program’s rise has been Matt Bunce. He moved here from New York six years ago and ran into a Munford wrestler while working out at Atoka Fitness. One thing led to another and Bunce became in assistant coach. He said the team has a lot of momentum heading into state duals.
“The kids that feel under the radar need to step up like they did against Mlllington and Sycamore,” Bunce said. “They got to another level and they’ll have another chance to do that.”
Greeneville, Munford’s quarterfinal opponent, is ranked first in the state in Class A. Fairview, a possible semifinal opponent, is the defending state champ.
Knowing that, what’s the Cougars’ mindset heading into Saturday?
“It’s about mentality,” Perez said. “We have a good chance to place at state as a team. We’re going to try and do the best we can. Hopefully we can get far.”
Per his nature, Cline is telling his wrestlers the truth concerning what they will be up against in Franklin.
“I know the teams we have to wrestle and they’re all tough. The biggest takeaway for me right now is that Sycamore was ranked third for a reason and we beat them by 12 and it could have been more. In my opinion, there’s no reason why, if we keep wrestling at the level we’re wrestling at, we can’t go up there and actually do something. Can we go up there and blow the whole bracket up and win the tournament? I would say that’s a long shot, but it’s possible.”