Photo by Christine Troyke
Joel Smith and T.J. Mitchell have wrestled each other dozens of times over the last 10 years.
But it wasn't until this season that the Collins Hill seniors started practicing with each other every day. However, who won most of those battles is up for debate.
"That would be me," Mitchell said.
"Definitely me," Smith responded.
That's about the only opposition either of the Daily Post's Wrestlers of the Year faced this season, at least in Georgia. Smith and Mitchell defended their Class AAAAA state championships and helped Collins Hill to arguably the best season ever by a Georgia wrestling team.
"We would both push each other to do the best at every practice," Smith said.
Smith posted a 49-4 record with 29 pins this season, which included his second individual state championship at 145 pounds. He won the Toshiba Midwest Classic after losing in the finals the previous two seasons. He also took fourth at the PowerAde Invitational, one of the toughest tournaments in the country.
His 194-22 career record and 104 pins rank among the top five in Collins Hill history, which is a pretty storied group. The only blemishes on his record have been to out of state opponents as Smith hasn't lost to a Georgia wrestler since the state finals of his sophomore year.
"He and T.J. are two of the all-time great coming out of Georgia," Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said.
Mitchell's decorated high school career ends with his third state championship and second in Class AAAAA. Mitchell attended Wesleyan as a freshman and dominated the Class AA competition, going 50-0 where he was never scored on and won the state championship. His pin at the Class AA state duals secured the state title for the Wolves.
Mitchell's success continued at Collins Hill where he helped the Eagles to traditional and dual state titles the last three seasons. He's been a part of 10 state championships as an individual or team, which ranks among the top 10 for most ever by Gwinnett County athletes in any sport.
Mitchell posted a 51-3 record this season with 35 pins at 125 pounds and holds a 214-9 career record. His only loss in his Georgia high school career came on a controversial stalling call his sophomore season at the state tournament.
"He's been wrestling for 10 years and I think he put a show at the state tournament (this year) with five first-period pins," Ramos said.
As much success that Smith and Mitchell enjoyed this season as individuals, they took more pride in what the team accomplished this season. Collins Hill traveled across the country and beat some of the top wrestling teams. The Eagles won the Toshiba Midwest Classic by 100 points, took second at the PowerAde Invitational and third at the Final Four.
"I think it's the toughest (schedule) by far," Mitchell said. "We traveled where no other Georgia team goes. We wrestled the best competition. We wrestled the No. 1 team in the nation and we came close to beating them, so it shows you how hard we work and what our schedule does for us. (Pennsylvania) people, you can't get any better than that and all those good wrestlers."
The Eagles' only losses were to top-10 teams Brandon (Fla.) by 10 points and Blair Academy (N.J.), who was No. 1 in the nation at the time, by three points.
"I still remember when we wrestled Brandon and people were like 'Y'all aren't going to win a match. Y'all can't do this, you can't do that,'" Smith said. "We were like all right, I guess we'll have to show y'all."
The duo will continue their careers at the Division I level where Smith will wrestle for Arizona State and Mitchell will join former teammate Taylor Knapp at Virginia Tech.
The chances of the two ever meeting on the mat to settle the squeamish of who's better in the wrestling room will have to wait. Mitchell claims he's taken Smith down three times, while Smith says its only been once.
"That's been the debate," Ramos said with a laugh. "Let's say two."