Team Race: With the graduation of 182 lb. State Champion Hunter Lee and State Placers Mason Blakeney, Hayden Carpenter, and Jacob Shake, Oxford’s stranglehold might be over. The Yellow Jackets won the 2015 Sectional Tournament by 33 points, but will need 138 lb. State Champion Matt King and their returning six State Qualifiers to wrestle well if they are going to keep the title in east Alabama. Homewood with five State Placers and five State Qualifiers are in a great position to knock them off and bring the title back to central part of the state. Benjamin Russell loses Culpepper, Deloney, and Thompson to graduation, but return enough firepower that they should be considered a threat. Keep an eye on Pelham and Wetumpka. Both programs return some great individuals and if they can get production from the “supporting cast”, each team has a real chance to knock off any of the teams in the section. It is exciting to see Baldwin County, Daphne, Gulf Shores, Robertsdale, and Spanish Fort enter the mix in 2015-2016. We do not have a preview for those schools because they are just beginning, but will certainly be including them in the post-season previews.
Contenders: Twenty-one medalists from the 2015 State Tournament return for another shot at the top step in 2016. Twelve are seniors and the 2015-2016 season represents their final shot at the top step. Four 2015 State Champions return and each is set on claiming another title in 2016. 285 lb. State Champion Daniel Bland of Benjamin Russell and 138 lb. State Champion Matt King of Oxford were dominant en route the title a season ago. They will be tough to beat in 2016. 126 lb. State Champion Vershone Graham of Wetumpka knocked off Arab’s BJ Hayes to take the top step and Chelsea’s Aaron Ledbetter worked his way from a #3 spot in the sectional to claim his first title. They were joined in the finals by Stanhope Elmore’s Ty Naquin who fell to Southside Gadsden’s Jacob Smith in the 106 lb. final. Five south sectional wrestlers made the consolation finals in 2015 and will be looking to push through and wrestle for a state title in 2016. They include: Trent Holley (3rd at 220) of Wetumpka, Hassan Hawthorne (3rd at 160) of Pelham, Angelo Farrow (3rd at 120) of Opelika, Justavious Robinson (4th at 220) of Benjamin Russell, and Carlos Daniel Figueroa-Ordono (4th at 170) of Homewood.
Eleven additional south sectional wrestlers finished on the podium in 2015 and will be looking to climb the podium in 2016. Each has the ability to claim the top step, but may need to wrestle a fantastic 2016 State Tournament to knock off the competition in front of them. They include: Thomas Coley (6th at 152) of Benjamin Russell, Kewaan Kennedy (5th at 120), Carial Tarter (5th at 132), Jeffrey Kennedy (6th at 126), and Carlos Jesus Figueroa (6th at 182) of Homewood, Jamal Woods (6th at 220) of Hueytown, Tory Birdsong (6th at 106) of Opelika, Giovanni Adan (5th at 182), Karl Nagel (6th at 195), and Ian Schlosser (6th at 170) of Pelham, and Jacob Brooks (6th at 113) of Russell County.
Hunting the Podium: Thirty-two South Sectional wrestlers qualified (and return in 2015-2016) and recorded at least one win at the 2015 State Tournament. Each failed to find the podium, but will be looking to change that in 2016. Nine of those 32 finished just off the podium, with a 2-2 record, and will be eager to claim a medal in 2016. Expect each of them to be on the podium in 2016. They include: Trevor Gravette of Benjamin Russell, Adam Tickal of Opelika, Wesley Butler, Marshall Stone, and Ethan Harris of Homewood, Speed Pitts and Clay Webb of Oxford, Dillon Turner of Pelham and Trent Barrett of Wetumpka. Twenty-three wrestlers finished 1-2 at the 2015 State Tournament and will need to wrestle better if they are going to medal in 2016. Each has an outside shot at a medal in 2016. Keep an eye on: Saxon Coker, Michael Parker, and Jamarez Hall of Benjamin Russell, Jordan Pendley and Dylan Vines of Brookwood, Austin Sciara and Nick Thrasher of Chelsea, Kris Wilkins of Homewood, Blake Williams of Hueytown, Devin Hackworth of McAdory, Carson Lindsey, Wesley Slick, Quintez Pearson, and Kane Pitts of Oxford, Jocquez Dixon and Isaac Jackson of Park Crossing, Dexter Tanner of Pelham, William McAdams and Nathan Pender of Pell City, Logan Smith of Stanhope Elmore, and Cole Blackwell, Trevor Leonard, and Cameron Spurlin of Wetumpka.
Under the Radar: The following 17 wrestlers qualified for the State Tournament a season ago but failed to register a win in Huntsville. They have State Tournament experience, but will need to wrestle much better in 2015-2016 if any of the following is going to be on the podium in 2016. Jamie Whitehead of Benjamin Russell, Joe Harmon and Brantley Ledbetter of Chelsea, Javonic Turner of Homewood, Steven Corvin, Corey Johnson, and Jason Priester of Hueytown, Jacob Holsomback of McAdory, Miles Broadnax and Daniel Jenkins of Park Crossing, Kyler Ogden and Matthew Sullivan of Pell City, Charles Logan of Russell County, Dylan Flynn, Martin Rigsby, and Hayden Williams of Stanhope Elmore, and Caleb Soukhamneut of Wetumpka.