Photo: The Ashville High wrestling team gathers for a photo after winning the AHSAA Class 1A/4A Duals Tournament on January 21 in Birmingham. (Courtesy of Becky Staples Photography)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Ashville High wrestling team found a measure of redemption on January 21 in Birmingham.
A year after finishing runner-up to Cleburne County at the AHSAA Class 1A/4A Duals Tournament, the Bulldogs raised the first-place trophy after posting a 39-27 championship win over Deshler at the Bill Harris Arena.
The defending Class 4A state champions, Ashville (28-7) opened the tournament with a forfeit win over Prattville Christian, followed by a 45-21 victory over Dora. Ashville defeated St. James, 40-24, in the semifinals to qualify for the championship match.
“I don’t want to say it was surprising, because we knew these kids had it in them, but they didn’t know just how good they can be,” said AHS wrestling coach Jim Browning.
After Ashville and Deshler split the first 10 matches, the Bulldogs seized the momentum by winning for of the last five matches.
Browning’s decision to swap Dylan Harris and Cody Fincher at 172 and 184 paid off, as Harris pinned Devin Jeffreys at 172 pounds and Fincher pinned Andrew Gates at 184 pounds.
“It just looked like a better matchup to switch those two, and both guys wound up getting big wins,” said Browning. “Cody really got the crowd into it. It was great for the team and a special moment for Cody. He wrestled with a lot of heart, and it was exciting to watch.”
Following a forfeit win by Ryan Mills at 197 pounds, the Bulldogs secured the win when Layden Olsen posted a 2-1 decision over Lathan Jeffreys at 222 pounds and Mason Wilson pinned Jamarion Sanderson at 287 pounds.
“[Jeffreys] is a very good wrestler, and we knew it would be a tough match,” said Browning. “But Layden’s put in the work and he’s wrestling smart and clean. [Sanderson] really fought against Mason, but Mason weathered it, and he eventually owned the match. I’m proud of both
Also winning for Ashville were Owen Means with a pin of Brady West at 108 pounds; Jaden Harris with an 8-1 decision over Brian Hill at 122 pounds; Tyler Abner with an 11-5 decision over Dathan Laster at 140 pounds; and Bryan Hampton with a pin of Cameron Adkins at 147 pounds.
Browning said that Ashville losses by decision earlier in the match helped the Bulldog cause. Deshler received three points from a decision as opposed to six points for a pin.
“So with Nick Wilson (with a 7-8 loss to at 128 pounds), Gavin Hare (with a 5-9 loss at 134 pounds) and Travis Smith (with an 11-17 loss at 162 pounds) holding out and not getting pinned, it set up in good shape for the later matches,” he said.
Also competing for the Bulldogs were Chris Brown, pinned at 1:19 in the 115-pound weight class, and Greyson Simpson, pinned at 5:14 in the 154-pound class.
Browning believed that his team’s experience at the 2021 state duals played a part in the Bulldogs’ 2022 success.
“I think having been there before helped us this time around,” said Browning. “I know that a few of the kids from last year said that losing to Cleburne County humbled them and wound up helping them in the long run. At the same time, I think that winning can also humble you. With is, it was the situation of putting in so much work every day after the adversity of losing seven really good seniors.”
Following the final two weeks of the regular season, Ashville will compete in the sectional tournament in mid-February in Birmingham and the state tournament in late February in Huntsville.
“The key now is to keep them healthy and keep them focused,” said Browning. “We’re getting a good two weeks in the [wrestling] room (after January 25), and that should help to get us ready and get us prepared. Only the top four teams in sectionals go to state, and there’s going to be some pretty stiff competition (at the sectional meet).”