During his long career, Smith Center High School wrestling coach Brock Hutchinson has learned not to count his chickens.

The moment he does, they just might lay an egg.

So the Redmen skipper wasn’t going to talk much about the Redmen’s title hopes heading into this weekend’s Class 3-2-1A state wrestling championships at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

However, what he would say was the Redmen certainly stepped up to the plate to put themselves in a good position.

Smith Center is one of the teams in the hunt to possibly unseat five-time defending champion Norton in the team standings.

They made sure of that by winning the Hoisington regional last week and in the process setting a new school record with 10 qualifiers — the most by any team in this year’s tournament — for the 3-2-1A finale.

“We put ourselves in a great situation,” Hutchinson said. “You never know until you get down there to the state tournament and draw who you draw.

“That’s what it boils down to.”

The Redmen, though, are confident they can at least factor into the decision.

While Norton has five qualifiers for this year’s finale and is certainly in the running to defend its crown, the likes of Scott City, Hoisington and Smith Center all could make a run. Hoisington has challenged Norton in the current stretch, while Smith Center and Scott City are the only two teams to win a title other than Norton since 2004. Though Beloit did tie the Redmen in 2007, part of three straight titles for Smith Center, the Redmen’s last crown came in 2009, and Scott City won it all in 2012.

“Going into state, I think we have the best team,” said senior 285-pounder Avery Hawkins. “We hope to come home with another trophy and hang another banner in the gym.”

Smith Center’s big three of seniors Colton Hutchinson (152), Dalton Kuhn (220) and Hawkins have danced this dance before, though now the supporting cast is there for Smith Center to make a run.

“We’re just ready to get back on the mat,” said Hawkins, who enters the field ranked No. 1 at 285 with a 42-1 mark. “I know it’s only been a few days since we wrestled, but it feels like it’s been a year. We’re ready to get back out there and compete.”

Of the Redmen’s 10 qualifiers, four have experienced the state tournament before. That includes Colton Hutchinson, a four-time qualifier and medalist and the son of the coach. Colton Hutchinson was second last season after his finals loss to Hoisington’s Jonathan Ball at 145 pounds. He enters state with a 40-3 record after last week’s second-place finish in the regional to Hoisington’s Christopher Ball, Jonathan’s brother.

Kuhn, a Fort Hays State University football signee, sits 44-3 and already has set a school career record with 91 pins. He and Hawkins, a Bethel College football signee, each are tied at 32 pins this season, which also is a single-season school mark.

The sparring partners have had a friendly challenge going all season long to see whose name is going to be atop the list. Already, they sit four ahead of the old record set by Kirk Palmer.

“That’s a little cheap,” Hawkins joked of Kuhn’s 32 pins, saying the 220-pounder has more dual matches where Hawkins earned forfeits. “We’ll see after this week. We’ll decide this once and for all.”

That type of mentality, Brock Hutchinson says, just adds to the fun this club has had in its 2017-18 run. Hoisting a trophy this weekend would just be the icing on the cake. Already this fall, the Smith Center football team got back to championship form with its dominating showing in the Class 2-1A championship game.

“The last two weeks is what you train for,” the coach said. “We’re where we need to be, now it just boils down to what can the kids do and can they put two consecutive pretty successful weekends together.

“Or are we going to go down and lay an egg?”