Wrestlers bring home trophy
By Michael Butler
The last state championship for a Tallassee High School sports team came in 1998. The drought is over as the THS wrestlers hoisted the blue trophy in Huntsville over the weekend.
The Tigers' team has been in the runners-up role six times in Class 5A and Class 4A. This year's 1A-4A title is the wrestling program's first team title.
Six Tallassee wrestlers won individual titles as well. Josh Epperson (132) claimed his third straight state championship, unprecedented at Tallassee. He was 51-4 on the season. Kennon Reese (44-8) won the 126 pound class. D. J. Rivers (12-2) at 152 pounds, B. J. Thomas (46-7) at 160 pounds, Drew Baker (49-8) at 182 pounds, and Davonate McKenzie (50-7) at 195 pounds won their first titles. Steven Turner (113) finished third. Robi Rygiel (170) made it to the consolation semifinals.
"Having the six for six is something unheard of," coach John Mask said. "We've not had days like that before. When Davontae won, that made the perfect sweep. All of our teammates were on the floor holding up six. It was like a dream for us."
The previous high for individual champions was three for Tallassee in 2001.
"It was unbelievable how our guys wrestled on Friday," coach Jared Jones said. "We wanted to get pins. In the first round, seven out of eight guys got pins. In the second round, six out of seven won to go to the finals. It was more than we were hoping for. For the tournament we had 25 matches and 22 were wins."
Tallassee (143.5) was runner-up to St. James last year. This year, St. James was second (96.5), followed by Fultondale (94), St. Clair County (89) and Madison County (60).
Kennon Reese was the first to wrestle for an individual championship on Saturday. He's been runner-up at state the past two years. "I was pretty nervous at first," Reese said, but coach Jones gave him some good news.
"He was pacing back and forth," Jones recalled. "I said, look we've got in the bag. You're going to get a ring regardless, so go out and have fun."
"It helped a little bit," Reese stated. "It took some of the pressure off."
Josh Epperson's third title didn't come easy in his title match. He found himself down 8-2 in the first period. "I was like, there's no way I'm losing this. It's my last match in my high school career. I just kept fighting and I ended up catching him and pinned him in the third period."
Epperson is interested in wrestling in college. He has been in correspondence with Newberry College in South Carolina.
The school will have a celebration on the campus in Stumberg Gymnasium on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 10:45.
In Class 6A Thompson won its fourth straight championship. Arab was first in 5A.
Scottsboro senior Brandon Womack won his sixth state title in the Class 5A 160-pound division making him the second wrestler in AHSAA history to reach that milestone. Weaver’s Michael Sutton was the first winning six in a row from 1999-2004. Womack finished the season 77-0 and his prep career 422-8 making him the AHSAA’s all-time wins leader. His 77 wins without a defeat is also the best unbeaten single season in state history.
Tallassee High School Individual Champions
1997 (4A) - Brian Freeman, Brandon Redden
2001 (4A) - Justin Harris, Eric Cagle, Brandon Rigsby
2002 (4A) - Eric Cagle, Justin Harris
2003 (4A) - Jonathan Webb
2004 (4A) - Jonathan Webb, Mack Farrow
2006 (4A) - Jonathan Haynes
2009 (5A) - Sharrod Person, John Stuckey
2010 (5A) - Chris Adams, T. C. Robinson
2011 (5A) - Chris Adams, T. C. Robinson
2012 (5A) - Josh Epperson
2013 (4A) - Josh Epperson, Jesse Rowlen
2014 (4A) - Kennon Reese, Josh Epperson, D. J. Rivers, B. J. Thomas, Drew Baker, Davontae McKenzie