"Really, it doesn't matter if you were at the top before,'' Smith said. "You go into the next year and everything has a fresh start, everyone's working hard. Going back to back [as a state champion] is hard to do. It doesn't matter if you've won it before. It's all about competition.''
Smith has had success throughout his career at George Washington, posting records of 48-5 last year, 37-11 as a sophomore and 46-5 as a freshman, making him 146-21 before this weekend's Pat Vance Invitational.
But it's never too late for him to learn a new trick or two. Harper said Smith is probably enjoying wrestling a little bit more as a senior.
"I think so,'' Harper said. "He's having a good time with the kids, enjoying his role as a leader on the team. I'm seeing a side of him I haven't seen in the past. He was always intense and dead serious about everything, but now he's gotten a role of joking and having a good time [with teammates], and it's working out pretty good for him.''
There's still almost two months before the state tournament takes place Feb. 21-23 at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, but Smith certainly can't wait to prove to others that he hasn't lost a step since last year.
"It motivates you,'' he said. "It definitely makes you work harder, and I think it'll help me out in the long run.''
GW, as the three-time defending titlist at the Vance meet, was expected to get a battle from Winfield for the team crown. First-day results were unavailable at press time because the tournament started about an hour late and ran long.
The Generals began the weekend ranked 10th in Class AAA in the wvmat.com coaches poll, and they fielded a full squad for the Vance Invitational, while the Patriots were missing entries at 145, 152 and 182.
"It's that time of year,'' Harper said. "You see a lot of kids sitting out hurt, ACTs are coming up, everything. We've won here at Nitro three years in a row, but Winfield's looking good and has got a full squad. They've been pretty successful this year.
"Our thing is that we want to be hitting on all cylinders come the end of February. That's when it counts. If you happen to get some firsts and seconds along the line, that's great, too. A lot of people think we're not ready for the top 10 right now, either. We'll see how that finishes.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.