While folks were doling out flowers and chocolates Wednesday, 28 Randolph County high schoolers forewent the blooms and sweets and headed to the mat room.

The grapplers hope that dedication pays off as the NCHSAA state wrestling tournament starts today at the Greensboro Coliseum.

In a record year for Randolph County, 1-A Uwharrie Charter Academy and 2-A Wheatmore both captured Regional titles in last week’s individual competition after falling in the dual team state semifinals two weeks earlier. In all, the Eagles are sending 10 wrestlers to state in just their second year with a wrestling team, while the Warriors are matching last year’s total with eight. Also in 2-A, Trinity is sending four grapplers to state with Eastern Randolph sending two and Randleman one.

In 3-A, Asheboro boasts two wrestlers competing tonight and Southwestern Randolph one.

It may be a surprise for some to see a second-year squad have the success UCA is having, but with Chris Waddell at the helm, it’s not too much of a shocker.

“They’ve been wrestling together for a long time,” said Waddell, who is in his 17th year of coaching high school wrestling. “We have a really heavy junior class. They’ve been practicing hard. It’s a lot of hard work — a lot of Saturdays and not a lot of free time.”

Waddell made sure the Eagles’ schedule this season was stacked. The team wrestled mostly 2-A, 3-A  and 4-A schools, boasting a 28-2 record with losses to 4-A Ragsdale and 1-A Rosewood, which won the state dual team title before falling to UCA at last week’s regional. The Eagles participated in the 76-team Holy Angels Invitational in Charlotte, placing 12th as one of only two 1-A schools at the tournament.

“For us to do that well on that stage, which is way tougher than the state tournament,” said Waddell, who spent 15 years at 3-A SWR before taking the job at UCA. “(Wrestling 1-A) is a little different,

but when you get down to the last eight guys in the state, they’re pretty tough. … I’m very confident we can go into 2-A or 3-A and compete. We might not win the thing, but we won’t get blown out either.”

Of the 10, two UCA wrestlers placed first at regionals — Waddell’s son Hayden (113 pounds), who won the first state title in school history last season, and Jerry Jimenez (152). Josh Poteat (120), Nick Menjivar (145), Branson Lambert (160), Isaiah Martin (182) — who placed fourth at state last year — and Dylan Jones (195) enter the tournament as No. 2 seeds. Adam Robins (126) and Bailey Parks (170) are seeded third with Caleb Bryant (138) fourth.

“It’s been a good situation,” said Waddell, who has never taken more than six wrestlers to the state tournament. “In the past, we had to go somewhere else. Since we have 10, we can drill with each other.

“They know they’re making history. I try to tell them that. If we’re able to do something that would be the first team in the history of the school to do that, it would be something really special. I feel like they can all go and place — nobody will be overmatched.”

In 2-A, the Warriors are a force to be reckoned with, boasting six seniors on the squad and four returning state placers, including a state champ. WHS placed 10th at the Holy Angels Tournament and third at the Tiger Holiday Classic in Chapel Hill.

“Having six seniors in the lineup was huge for us in the dual team tournament because we had far fewer holes in our lineup,” WHS coach Philip Yarbrough said. “What’s really cool about this group is how they’ve really jelled together and cared about each other and about the team’s success — more than any other group I’ve coached.

“At first, losing the dual team tournament semifinal was really hard, it took us three days to get over that loss. As we got closer to Friday, we really got rocking and rolling again in the practice room.”

The rejuvenated squad meant a regional crown and eight grapplers headed to state, including Providence Grove transfer and defending state champ Ethan Oakley (120), Hayden Caldwell (106), Jared Niemitalo (132) and Pierre Hakizimana (182), who all enter today’s action as top seeds. Niemitalo placed fourth last year at state, while Caldwell took fifth. Entering as a second seed is Chase McKinney (145), who placed third at state last year, while Devin Daugherty (220) and Mikel Long (285) are seeded third. Joey Ferguson (195) is a No. 4 seed.

“The biggest thing Ethan has added is he’s given the other guys who have been on the verge — he’s helped push them closer to busting through that bubble,” Yarbrough said. “It’s kind of a perfect storm happening all at the same time. The seniors who’ve had a history of success are another year older and are finally taking ownership of the team.”

Despite all of the success this year has brought to the coach — in his first year at the helm of the Warriors’ football team, they won the most games in school history (nine) —Yarbrough doesn’t want to count chickens.

“This has definitely been the most meaningful year of my career,”

he said. “It’s a lot of people working really hard together.

“I still have one superstition, though. I will not pack a suit. If we’re lucky enough to get some kids through the semifinals, I’ll go home and grab a suit out of the closet.”

Joining the eight WHS grapplers in 2-A competition are Trinity’s Aaron Ortega-Perez (fourth seed, 113), Eastern Randolph’s Christian Garcia (second seed, 132), THS’ Jermell Brockington (third seed, 138), Randleman’s Cain Steiner (third seed, 145), ER’s Morgan York (second seed, 170), THS’ Ayden Provatte (fourth seed, 182) and THS’ Cody Hyatt (second seed, 220), who finished third at state last year.

In 3-A action, Asheboro’s Michael Smith (first seed, 220) and Austin Curry (second seed, 145) and Southwestern Randolph’s Zack Brim (third seed, 106) are looking to see if they can bring home state titles.

The 3-A first round starts today at 4 p.m. with 2-A beginning at 8 p.m. The first round of 1-A action starts Friday at 2 p.m. The Parade of Champions is Saturday at 4:30 p.m. followed by the championship finals.