Tallassee wrestling

File / The Tribune Tallassee senior Zack Haynes is a four-time state placer for the Tigers.

With the wrestling postseason quickly approaching, Tallassee’s Zack Haynes knew he had to get back on the mats to shake off any rust before competing in this weekend’s sectional tournament. After going more than three weeks without a match due to a shoulder injury, Haynes returned to the mat last Tuesday night and pinned Pike Road’s Jacob Arnett at 126 pounds to announce his return.

“It was very exciting for all of us,” Tallassee coach John Mask said. “He continued to work even when he was out so to see him come back with success like that was awesome.”

Haynes did not stop there as he earned two more pins during the regular-season finale, helping the Tigers to a pair of victories to finish the duals season. Haynes improved to 35-3 on the year and is the Elmore County Player of the Week.

Despite not being cleared for live matches, Haynes continued to hone his craft so he could be ready to return when the time came.

“I got cleared the Monday before Senior Night but I was ready to come back before that,” Haynes said. “I had been working a few moves and doing all the running to stay in shape. It felt good to come back with a pin to help the team out.”

During his recovery, Tallassee had some of its biggest matches of the season including the AHSAA Class 1A-5A Duals Championships where the Tigers dropped two matches by single digits to be eliminated. Haynes said that was the hardest part of sitting out.

“That’s what ate me up the most,” Haynes said. “I knew when I was out, we didn’t have anyone else to fill my spot. That’s a 12-point swing right there. It was pretty tough to sit there and feel like I couldn’t contribute.”

Haynes couldn’t contribute to Tallassee’s points total during that time but his leadership trait was on full display.

“I was the mindset guy,” Haynes said. “We had a couple of first- and second-year guys going for us and I was giving them the pep talks. I just wanted to get everyone’s mind ready.”

Mask said the team was never going to rush Haynes back but he knew it was a good thing for Haynes to get a few more matches under his belt. Mask said Haynes has looked better with each passing match and he expects Haynes to compete with the best during the postseason and even push for a state title.

“That’s our goal,” Mask said. “It’s going to be tough and he will tell you it’s going to take his best wrestling but we think he has a shot.”

Haynes has not lost to a wrestler in Class 1A-5A this season but he is expected to drop down to 126 for the postseason after wrestling most of his matches in the regular season at 132. Haynes is currently listed as the No. 2 wrestler in 1A-5A in the Alabama Wrestling Coaches Association rankings at 132.

After racking up more than 200 wins and becoming a four-time state placer, Haynes has his eyes on the biggest prize in the state. He has dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons but he said he is closer to 100% now and the time missed is only helping him stay focused.

“That has given me a good bit of motivation,” Haynes said. “Even when dealing with this injury, it’s not as serious as last year but I kept thinking about last year and it just made me want to work harder every day. It drives me.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.