EATON RAPIDS – In his first season, Joe Ray Barry envisioned the day Eaton Rapids wrestling would make its way back to the sport’s pinnacle.
The Greyhounds’ 10-18 record didn’t support the coach’s ambitious thoughts, but he believed the pieces were in place.
“I told them they were going to be the team (to beat) four years from now,” Barry said. “They probably looked at me crazy, but we just kept telling them to believe in themselves.”
He was spot on.
Barry’s plan came to fruition this season as he orchestrated Eaton Rapids to its first regional title since 2009 and runner-up finish in Division 2.
“I told these seniors, when the season ended, that when they look back four years from now they’re the guys that brought us back,” said Barry, whose team went 41-3 this year. “We have a great tradition, but we’ve just fallen short the past couple of years.
“They’ll be able to look back and see that they turned the program back around. We aren’t a flash in the pan.”
Under former coach Scott Warriner, the Greyhounds captured four state titles during the 1990s. And in 2008, Eaton Rapids finished as runner-up.
However, from 2009 to 2014, Division 2 was dominated by St. Johns. The Redwings won four consecutive titles during that span and finished second in 2014.
Barry knew at some point this season the Greyhounds’ path to Battle Creek — home of the finals — would collide with St. Johns’. That moment came in the regional final.
No. 4-ranked Eaton Rapids trailed the No. 1-ranked Redwings, 31-22, with two matches remaining. But back-to-back pinfalls by Austin Eldred and Hunter George allowed the Greyhounds to pull out the comeback victory.
“Probably 90 percent of the people there were watching to see if it could happen, and 10 percent knew it would,” Barry said. “We knew we could accomplish it. We ran the numbers on paper, we knew the team, and we had seen them over the years.
“We have been building these guys up for the past four years (for that moment).”