The first-year program has three wrestlers competing in this weekend’s state tournament. At this time a year ago, Alexandria had only a youth wrestling program.
But when the state’s biggest wrestling event of the year takes place today and Saturday in Huntsville, Alexandria will be represented. The tournament begins today at 10 a.m. for Class 6A and 3:30 p.m. for 1A-4A and 5A.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations, for sure. I’m just really proud,” Hartzog said. “I knew there was potential when we started the youth team four or five years ago, but I didn’t know it would happen this soon. The community’s tradition of supporting sports shows me that we’ll be fine for years to come and we’ll be successful.”
Coincidentally, the three wrestlers who have advanced to the state tournament didn’t come through the Alexandria youth program. Lane Trapp, Christian Knop and Antonio Dodd haven’t wrestled until this season.
Until now, last weekend’s North super sectional was the biggest meet Alexandria had attended. Hartzog had concerns about how his athletes would handle the stakes of the super sectional, even though the Valley Cubs had finished third at tournaments at Wellborn and the Alabama School of Blind. But Trapp, Knop and Dodd didn’t show the slightest sign of nerves.
Knop finished runner-up in the 160-pound weight class, while Dodd (195 pounds) and Trapp (113) each finished as the No. 3 seed in their weight classes.
“I was proud of them. They didn’t seem intimidated,” Hartzog said. “They just went out there and wrestled like they have all year.”
This week’s school cancellations for winter weather have kept wrestlers from practicing since Monday, but Hartzog said it shouldn’t hurt his trio of qualifiers too much. He said he constantly reminding them to exercise, and also noted most schools in the north haven’t been practicing either.
It’s a different story for Piedmont’s Exavyer Jackson, who usually focuses on basketball first and wrestling second. Bulldogs coach Harley Lamey joked that Jackson practiced more this week than he has been able to most weeks.
And because of the weather, Jackson practiced only Monday.
Jackson played a full schedule of basketball this season and wrestled fewer than 20 matches this season. Even so, he won the 285-pound weight class at the North super sectional, sending him to the state tournament for the first time as a varsity performer.
“It’s rare, and I’ve never seen anybody play basketball and wrestle,” Lamey said. “He’s pretty athletic and extremely strong. He has a little background in it, so he’s not completely new, but I think it’s his athletic ability and his understanding of his own body.
“He knows when it’s time to do something and when it’s time to hold back. He’s a pretty smart kid and knows what he needs to do.”
Lamey’s lone concern with the senior is how he’ll react to the Von Braun Center, which is an arena large enough that it’s known to shake first-timers. The Von Braun Center can seat more than 7,000.
“Sometimes the first time you’re there you can get a little shocked. It’ll be good to get that out of the way,” Lamey said. “(Jackson has) played in big football games and basketball games, so this is just another big stage for him to go out and compete on.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.