Every wrestler started with the same goal of reaching the AHSAA Championships in Huntsville next weekend. The final step before reaching that platform begins this Friday as the AHSAA Super Section tournaments are held in Montgomery and Birmingham.
Local teams will converge on Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, including reigning Class 6A South Super Section champion Wetumpka. Since falling short in the AHSAA Duals Championships, Wetumpka has turned its focus to sectionals where it looks to defend its title and continue its run to a state championship.
“This is what we have been working for all season,” Wetumpka coach Anthony Byrd said. “They are ready and want to go out and compete. There is not much pushing needed for this team.”
Wetumpka is expected to compete in all 14 weight classes, nine of whom return from sectionals last year. Xander McWilliams (120 pounds) and Kyler Adams (132) won their weight divisions last season and will have targets on their backs this weekend.
“Teams are going to be coming for them but they know what it takes,” Byrd said. “We just go out and wrestle the way we have been.”
Mason Blackwell suffered one of his two defeats last season at sectionals but will return at 182 as he looks to finish in the top spot this time.
“That’s definitely motivation for him,” Byrd said. “We haven’t talked too much about that but he knows he will have to wrestle his best. That’s going to drive him.”
Stanhope Elmore finished 12th in last year’s sectional and while the Mustangs are hoping for a higher finish, the main goal is about qualifying wrestlers for the state tournament. The Mustangs set a school record for state qualifiers last season with seven but coach Hunter Adams said they are shooting even higher and he feels they have a good chance at reaching double digits.
“We think we could get more than Stanhope ever has,” Adams said. “We’re taking 12 to sectionals and I believe we could potentially have as many as 10 at state. And we have some guys that have a shot to place at the top.”
Stanhope is coming off one of its best performances of the season as the Mustangs won the Hornet Slam VI at Beauregard. Jeremiah Cherry Daniel, who finished first at 160 pounds in the tournament, has won nine consecutive matches taking some momentum into sectionals and hoping to push for a spot on the podium after finishing fifth at sectionals last year.
“It’s getting close and we’re going hard every day,” Cherry Daniel said. “I’m focused on winning state so I just have to work hard and wrestle to the best of my ability. I feel like I have a shot at the top.”
Elmore County qualified seven wrestlers for state last year after finishing sixth as a team in the Class 1A-5A South Super Section.
“We want to keep building,” ECHS coach Jared Jones said. “We want to keep showing that progress. We had six two years ago and seven last year so we are hoping for seven or eight again this year. We’ll fill all 14 divisions so that’s a big plus.”
Matt Brown finished sixth at last year’s sectionals but is hoping for a better finish at 220. Brown has won 15 of his last 16 bouts and has lost just four times since moving down from heavyweight.
“There are going to be a couple of challenges but I’m feeling pretty good,” Brown said. “We have some new guys that are nervous but we’re getting ready to go. Me and the other captains are making sure the team is ready.”
Stone Svencer (132 pounds) and Matthew Thornton (120) are the only other wrestlers who placed at sectionals last year who return for the Panthers but there are a few others ready to make some noise. Ramon Lozada (106) is 33-5 in his first year as a wrestler while Solon Lee (170) sits at 33-4 after not placing at sectionals last season.
Holtville is expected to take eight wrestlers into Montgomery this weekend. Ethan Headley and JJ Jackson are the only two returning with experience from last season, each winning two matches at sectionals but failing to qualify for state.