E.A. Sports Today

‘It’s the big deal’

Alexandria’s Knop, Dora’s Lauderdale square off in a battle of unbeatens for the 1A-5A 170 title





By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HUNTSVILLE – The match has all the anticipation of a world-title fight when boxing was at its best. Insert wrestlers for boxers and you get the idea.

Two combatants, both undefeated, going toe-to-toe with one last chance for glory on the line.

Of all the matches in Saturday’s state wrestling championships at the Von Braun Center, one of the most anticipated is the potentially epic Class 1A-5A 170 battle of unbeatens between Alexandria freshman Christian Knop and Dora senior Caleb Lauderdale.

Lauderdale, the North super section champion and last year’s state runner-up, is 60-0. Knop, the South champion and a fourth-place state finisher a year ago, is 59-0.

There are no ties in this game. Something has to give.

“Big fight, two undefeated people, going to the state finals, a freshman and a senior,” Knop said. “The anticipation of this match has been riding all year so it’s a big moment for both of us, our schools and everybody else.

“It’s just kind of unbelievable to be in the state finals. Both of us want to win, obviously, but only one person can win. Hopefully it’ll be me, but stuff happens. If I don’t win it’s not the end of the world; I’ve still got three more years after this. But I hope to come out with a win and keep winning and be a four-time state champ, that’s my goal.”

It’s the only match between two undefeated wrestlers across three classifications in the championship session this year. The next best thing is undefeated Khaleel Johnson of Auburn against once-beaten Drew Reed of Mountain Brook in the 7A 132 final.

“It’s pretty cool to see everybody coming out,” Lauderdale said. “I’ve heard everybody talking about it saying we’re wanting to see this match in the finals. I’ve been in this situation before, but I’ve never been undefeated; it’s like a new experience. Being in the finals and being in the finals undefeated is like a whole new level of pressure.

“Everybody wants to watch it because it’s more entertaining to see; hey, these two guys are undefeated and they have worked their butts off to the end. Basically it’s the big deal. Instead of being just another match, it’s like, hey, this determines who’s the best in that weight class.”

Knop, who undoubtedly would make some football coach a nice tight end or defensive end if he weren’t so dedicated to this sport, is one of six Calhoun County wrestlers vying for state titles Saturday – seven from the immediate area if you include Cleburne County’s defending 152 champion Tyler Mayfield.

The others are Weaver’s Nick Souder (61-1) and Alexandria’s Lane Trapp (33-5) who square off for the 113 title, Wellborn’s Kane Pitts (182), Weaver’s Chase Rodgers (195) and Ohatchee’s Caleb Montgomery (220).

Pitts (28-3) faces Alex Nickell of Leeds (41-3), Rodgers (63-5) faces Tallassee’s Andy Baker (44-5) and Montgomery (52-5) faces Colton Parton of Madison County (42-1). Mayfield (13-1) faces Leeds’ Toren Pollard (43-1).

The only time Knop and Lauderdale have been on the same mat together was during a practice session at an offseason tournament in Virginia Beach. Lauderdale agreed you don’t get a true sense of a wrestler’s moves in practice, but he anticipates a “tough match” against Knop nonetheless.

Knop’s road to the final included two pins and a decision. Lauderdale breezed through his side of the bracket with three pins.

“I’m not going to walk into that thinking I’m just going to walk through it,” Lauderdale said.

While everyone else connected to the sport has tracked the paths of the two wrestlers in anticipation of Saturday’s collision, Lauderdale said the “only thing” he’s noticed about his opponent is he’s undefeated.

Knop said he hasn’t really studied Lauderdale until his dad mentions something, but he has gone to see him in action this year at the St. Clair County tournament.

“I think it’s going to be a good match,” Knop said. “I’m just going to go out there and battle it out. The best will come out the victor and stand on top of the podium.”

The next intriguing matchup for local watchers is the 113 final between Souder and Trapp. It’s the second year in a row Souder will be facing a Calhoun County rival in the championship match. Last year, he fought through the disdain of facing a familiar foe in the final and defeated Ohatchee’s Jimmy Wilson for the 106 crown.

Wilson has moved on and Souder has moved up but still dominated his division.

Souder and Trapp have wrestled three times season with the closest being their first encounter in Cleburne County’s Rumble in the Jungle. Souder earned his way back to the finals with two pins and a major decision. Trapp beat the North champion and South runner-up on his road, a testament to his more aggressive approach in his final state tournament.

“I’m actually really excited to wrestle Nick,” Trapp said. “I honestly believe right now he’s the best competition I have in the state. I want to have to beat the best to be the best and I think right now he’s the best and I’m excited to have the chance to wrestle him again.”

For Montgomery, getting to the 220 final means “everything” to him because “all the hard work and effort you put in all season is finally paying off.” He lost in the semifinals last year to Rodgers and it “drove me to want to get better.” He’s wrestled Parton twice previous this season, dropping two close decisions.

Rogers is driven by the memory of last year’s state final as well. After sending Montgomery into the consolation bracket, he lost a 9-3 decision in the championship match.

“I hated how I felt last year being runner-up; it’s the worst feeling to be second,” Rodgers said. “I want to be a state champion. Everything that steps on the mat with me is a threat to that.”

Going into the final day of the meet, Weaver is fifth in the 1A-5A team race with 89 points; Alexandria is seventh with 70. Oxford is 12th in 6A with 58.5 points.

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