For the third consecutive year, a wrestling team from Region 8-AAAA will represent the lower state in the Class AAAA state duals championship. Only this year’s participant from the region may be somewhat of a surprise.

Ashley Ridge is making its first-ever appearance in the state finals Saturday, taking on upper state champion Dorman at 3:30 p.m. at Dreher High School in Columbia. The Swamp Foxes won the Region 8-AAAA title a year ago but lost to region rival Fort Dorchester in the lower state finals.

Two years ago, Region 8-AAAA member Summerville wrestled for the state championship. Both Summerville and Fort Dorchester ended up losing to Rock Hill in the finals.

Ashley Ridge coach Stacey Woods, who has coach the team since the school opened in 2008-09, has steadily built his program to where it can compete with the top teams in the region. He says reaching the finals is the next step in building a perennial contender.

“We’ve been pretty consistent over the years but this is a tough, competitive region with Summerville and Fort Dorchester,” said Woods, himself a former Summerville wrestler who has coached previously at both schools. “Last year we took a big step by winning the region. When you can compete in this region, you know you have a good chance of competing on the statewide level.

“We sort of came into this season thinking that next year would be our best chance because we’re still a relatively young team overall. But this group has stepped up and performed. I believe a big key to our success is how close this group of kids is. It’s a true family unit and we’re all in this for one common goal.”

Ashley Ridge enters the finals with a 23-2 dual match record. The Swamp Foxes entered the playoffs as the state’s fifth-ranked AAAA team — one spot behind Dorman. Dorman advanced through the upper state with upsets of two-time defending state champion Rock Hill and a win over top-ranked Boiling Springs.

“On paper, I would say we’re the underdog, but that’s okay,” Woods said. “Probably not a lot of people expected this team to be here, but we are here and we’re going to give it our best shot. Dorman is very good, very deep. They have a lot of ranked wrestlers in the state rankings. Hopefully we can compete hard and give ourselves a chance. The rankings and all that stuff really don’t matter. It’s all about who wrestles better on Saturday. I know these kids will do their best.”