Time to hit the mat
Hartselle wrestling team loaded with experience; searching for first Class 5A state title since 2000
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
Keith Corder has high expectations of his 2003-2004 wrestling team. So high, he compared it to the squad that won state back in 2000.
"Right now, if this team was to wrestle that team (2000), I think this team would beat them," head coach Corder said. "I think we're stronger this year, top to bottom, than we were that year."
But competition is much better now three years later.
"The thing about it, teams are better now," Corder said. "It's gotten a lot more popular in Alabama since then, and there are new high school teams every year."
But, Corder is quick to point out he's not worried about teams like Homewood, Gardendale and Mountain Brook. He's just going to take care of his own.
Hartselle finished last season fourth in the state with a North Section Championship. The Tigers have won three of the last four North Section Championships and two in a row.
Last season, Luke Mize, Corey Farmer and Adam Faulk each finished second in the state tournament. All three are back and part of a team with nine juniors.
"They've been together since seventh grade," Corder said of his juniors. "I knew they were going to be a good group."
The Tigers won the state championship when the juniors on this team were seventh graders. So no member has a state championship ring.
"To be honest, I don't know if any of them remember us winning," Corder said.
Hartselle does have three seniors – Ben Eubanks Shawn Pewitt. Alex Sexton would have been a third senior, but he quit just before the season started.
"Ben is one of those that should get to the finals this year," Corder said. "He's wrestled ever since I can remember. Shawn just moved in from Spain Park this past summer. He's one of those behind either Luke (Mize) or Corey (Farmer). It will be tough for him to beat one of those in a wrestle off. But, as many places as we go and as many teams we wrestle, somebody's going to get sick or hurt. I got to have people that are ready to step in and that's what I need out of him."
It's no secret, though, that this team will be dominated by juniors.
Aside from Mize, Farmer and Faulk, Hunter Brasher, Dennis Smith and Kurt Hamilton will make big impacts.
Brasher finished third in the state last season and Hamilton finished fourth. Smith placed second in the section, while Eubanks finished runner-up and third in section, respectively.
"I feel like we have a bunch that can reach the finals this year," Corder said. Last season, Hartselle had members representing 13 of the 14 weight classes. "I feel real good about 125 and up as far as experience."
But it is the 103, 112 and 119 pound weight classes that will be filled by young, inexperienced wrestlers.
Ryder Brasher has the most experience in any of the lower weight classes, but he is hurt, and has not seen any mat time in practice. Rico Elliot, an eighth grader, likely will plug in at the 103, Andrew Durham will wrestle at 112, and Caleb Blanton will start at 119 until Brasher is able to return.
Corder said he had a "good idea" what his starting line-up will be for when his team travels to Atlanta this week to compete in the Parkview Duals.
In Atlanta, Hartselle will see teams as strong, if not stronger, than Homewood, Gardendale and Huntsville.
Last season, Homewood won the state championship, while Gardendale and Huntsville finished second and third.
"I think Homewood is strong top to bottom," Corder said. "They are way above and beyond everyone else in the south except for Gardendale.
"But, I'm not going to worry too much about anybody else. I'm just going to worry about us."
The beginning of this season may not start off too smooth, as the Tigers began practice just last week. Teams can begin practice at the end of October, but there is a reason why Corder doesn't start earlier.
"Practice has been going good," Corder said. "We start much later than other teams start, and that has its plus and minuses. We will lose some matches early because we start later, but it seems like at the end we peak at the right time.
"I'd rather somebody beat us in December and we beat them come the end of January."
A tough schedule also will have Hartselle ready for the North Section Tournament.
"I could pad the schedule and get a bunch of trophies for winning tournaments," Corder said. "But when it's time for the section tournament, we'll think we've seen tougher teams.
"I mean, sometimes you get more out of a 4-3 loss than when you go out there and pin a fish."
The first chance Corder and the wrestling team will wrestle in the Pettey Center is Dec. 11 against Sparkman.