After Harrison Courtney wrapped up his sixth consecutive regional wrestling championship Saturday, Woodford County Co-Coach Joe Carr Sr. overheard one of Courtney's victims express consolation in the fact that he was not pinned.
That's how good Courtney is — some opponents think not of winning, but of surviving three two-minute periods.
Courtney is the crown jewel of a team with a royal tradition as it heads to the KHSAA State Wrestling Championships, Thursday through Saturday, at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Woodford County, the Region 7 champion, has placed third or better at state for 19 consecutive seasons. Included were eight of the Yellowjackets' 13 state team titles.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Union County won its second consecutive championship last year. Then came Ryle, followed by Woodford.
Courtney, who jumped from 145 pounds last season to 160 now, will try to become the fifth wrestler in state history to win four titles. The Campbellsville University-bound senior goes to Frankfort with a 33-0 season record, 244-15 overall. The 244 wins ties him for ninth place on the national high school all-time list. At the regional, he surpassed the Woodford record of 242 set 12 years earlier by Carr Jr., himself a four-time state title-winner.
"I've kind of looked up to 'Joe-Joe' ever since I was a little kid and started wrestling," Courtney said. "That's all you hear about at Woodford County, is Joe Carr. So that's pretty exciting. I've been working six years for it now."
A year ago, the Jackets had a state finalist at 160 in Blake Sheehan. So Courtney wrestled at 145, going 40-0 and earning the Outstanding Wrestler Award at the state meet.
With Sheehan gone, the 5-foot-11 Courtney moved closer to his "natural weight" of 165 pounds this season.
His toughest test at state is expected to come from Bullitt Central's Jeremiah Walls, who took third at 160 last year.
Co-Coach Joe Carr Sr. says that Courtney's trademark move is his two-on-one tilt — two hands on one arm. Courtney pulls the arm tight, like a belt, to the hips, then tilts his foe back and onto the mat.
What sets Courtney apart from other champions, said Carr Sr., is "just his drive."
"He's dedicated. He puts a lot of time in. ... He works hard. He wants to win. He's going to fight for every takedown, he's going to fight for every counter."
As a three-time state champion, Courtney might have lost motivation to grind out a fourth. Or he might be feeling the pressure this week.
But neither is the case.
"Oh, you have to stay motivated," he said. "That's one of the things Joe-Joe and my dad always taught me, was you've got to stay motivated. Because when you start slacking, that's when somebody steps up and knocks you off your spot."
And the pressure that comes with being No. 1?
"No pressure at all," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that lets the pressure get to you. I brush it off. I know I give my all to everything and I put my faith in God, and I know that'll carry me through always."
Woodford practices last about 2½ to 3 hours, according to Carr Sr. Courtney sometimes comes to school early, or stays on after practice, for extra work. His weekly time in practice usually comes to about 15 hours.
After winning the regional, Courtney was asked how he would prepare for state.
"Practice hard," he said. "We've got four days, counting Sunday, of intense practice to get physically and mentally prepared. So I'm just going to go in there and give it everything I've got. Finish on top."
■ Courtney is among 10 Woodford wrestlers to make it to Frankfort, including regional champions Travis Krauziewicz (125 pounds) and Brian White (145).
Carr Sr. credits Courtney for setting the tone.
"He's been a pretty good leader," the coach said. "He's been trying to motivate these guys. Because coming into this year we were ranked 18th and I honestly thought we were going to have trouble just getting out of the region. ... It was going to be Henry Clay and Tates Creek.
"And we really had only one bona fide guy, and that was Harrison Courtney, that was returning state points. We're used to having five or six of those guys in our lineup. He can get real serious about stopping the kids from clowning around."
Which has translated into yet another superb season for the Jackets. How superb will be defined this weekend.
"All our guys are in tough (classes). What we're expecting is that these guys will wrestle above their heads, and you're in it to win it regardless of the odds," said Carr Sr. "I don't think the odds favor us, but we'll see what happens."
■ Region runner-up Henry Clay and third-place Franklin County each qualified eight individuals to state. Henry Clay senior Matt Zarth (44-2) is defending champion at 119 pounds.