MESQUITE — It’s pretty easy to know which parking spot in Virgin Valley’s lot belongs to the star wrestler. He chuckles when he thinks about it.
“It was kind of half my dad’s and half mine,” senior Jacob Baird said of who came up with the idea.
Baird’s spot bears his credentials painted in Virgin Valley green: two-time state wrestling champion. Teammate Ty Smith doesn’t have a parking spot to drive the point home, but he also has two state titles.
Baird and Smith form the core of one of the state’s best Class 3A teams, and the Bulldogs are intent upon bringing home a banner when the Southern Region tournament begins Friday at Western.
“We’re really excited to see how we do,” Virgin Valley coach Skyler Woods said. “Since I’ve been coaching, this is probably the best team I’ve had and possibly the two best guys I’ve ever coached.”
Baird won state in 2014 at 106 pounds and in 2016 at 120, and he enters the region tournament as the favorite at 132 with a 42-5 record and 34 falls. Smith, who won state at 106 pounds in 2015 and 2016, has a 47-1 record (33 falls) and will wrestle at 120 pounds.
It puts both in an unfair position. If they win, it’s business as usual. If they lose, people wonder what went wrong.
“You can’t expect anything, but it’s expected out of you,” Smith said.
Their talent is evident in the way they talk about the region tournament. To some, it would be nerve-wracking to wrestle when the lights are brightest. But for two decorated veterans, they shrug off any pressure.
“Just another tournament, that’s how I’m looking at it right now,” Baird said. “I’ve been to bigger and harder tournaments. I’m just expecting to go out there and win.”
It’s that kind of confidence Baird and Smith use to help cover a glaring weakness in Virgin Valley’s team: its roster size. The Bulldogs don’t have enough wrestlers to fill every weight class, and that has hurt them in tournaments and dual meets.
Last Thursday the Bulldogs lost 39-36 to top Class 3A contender Boulder City, and surrendered 24 points via forfeit. In matches that were wrestled, Virgin Valley won 36-15.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Woods said. “My philosophy here has always been to train guys who want to go to the next level. And because of how we train and how hard we train, it deters kids from coming out. That’s a decision I’ve made. I don’t want to hurt guys who can be really good by catering to guys just so they’ll come to practice.”
The top five regional finishers qualify for state. If Virgin Valley qualifies enough wrestlers, it would give Baird and Smith the opportunity to do something they have yet to do. They would love the chance to celebrate a championship with their teammates.
“Individual is awesome, it’s truly awesome, but it gets to the point that you want more,” Smith said. “Winning it as individual, then winning it as a team is just extraordinary.”
Contact Justin Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2944. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.