E.A. Sports Today

Hail, champions

Alexandria’s Knop, Weaver’s Souder, Heflin’s Mayfield, Ohatchee’s Montgomery bring state titles back to area

Alexandria’s Christian Knop leaps into the arms of assistant coach Tyler Caussey after winning Saturday’s state title, just like he did last year when he won his first crown.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HUNTSVILLE — Those who know best say winning a second state wrestling championship is the hardest thing to do – even harder than the first one — and even as easy as he made it look Alexandria sophomore Christian Knop would agree.

Knop won his second straight state title and completed his second straight undefeated season Saturday when he pinned hometown favorite Davion Watkins of Lee-Huntsville in 2:47 to win the Class 1A-5A 182 state title at the VonBraun Center.

The pin capped a 58-0 season that ran Knop’s winning streak to 114 straight matches over the last two championship seasons. He hasn’t lost since the state consolation finals three years ago.

It may have looked easy, the way he dispatched opponents with seemingly little effort, but he’ll tell you things like doing your taxes are easier.

“It was definitely harder,” he said. “The training was harder, the elevation to it, the hard work to it, was getting harder. It’s just indescribable right now. I really don’t know what to say. I’ll try to say something without … dying.

“There was a lot leading up to this match. I just wanted to stay undefeated. This is amazing.”

One thing that was the same as last year – the way he celebrated. After the ref slapped the mat and raised his arm in triumph, Knop did a quick victory lap and then jumped into the arms of assistant coach Tyler Caussey.

Actually, the more Knop wins, the harder it does become to maintain his level of excellence. He already sets a high bar, but after running through the state two years in a row where does the bar go now?

“Maybe all pins, just total domination, no points against?” Valley Cubs coach Frank Hartzog said. “I think that’s what you’ve got to do, look to improve no matter where you’re at.

“There’s not a whole lot else he can do, I guess. Maybe work on his skill set, more moves, just being super effective on everything. Everything he does right now is super effective, so he might be, I assume, wanting to add to his arsenal.

“That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to always look to improve no matter where you’re at. You’re a state champion, you’re one of the best, but you’ve got look at how do I get better.”

Weaver’s Nick Souder won his third straight state title in his final high school match Saturday.

THREE TIMES CHARMED: If winning the second state title is hard, what about a third?

Weaver’s Nick Souder was trying not to cry, but he even had to admit the moment was both exciting and emotional.

The Bearcats senior won his third straight state championship when he beat Madison County’s Brantley McHugh for the second time this season, 10-6, for the 1A-5A 126 crown.

“The second one is way harder, but I felt like that one was harder than the second one,” he said. “It’s my senior year and it means a little bit more.”

It was so much on his mind, he woke up at 5:30 Saturday morning, some two hours before his wake-up call, and spent the next two hours just thinking of all the what-ifs.

Souder, 194-3 during his three-year championship run, scored a major decision over McHugh at the Gene Taylor Memorial earlier this season, but the championship match was a lot tighter. McHugh set the pace and actually led twice before Souder made the moves that placed him in special company at Weaver.

“That’s pretty exciting to know I did something in school history that hasn’t been done in a long time,” he said.

Caleb Montgomery became Ohatchee’s first wrestling state champion when he edged Weaver’s Caleb Allison for the 1A-5A 220 title.

GOING OUT A WINNER: Caleb Montgomery has been chasing a state wrestling championship his entire career and Weaver’s Caleb Allison all year. He finally caught both in his final high school match.

Montgomery, a runner-up a year ago, became Ohatchee’s first wrestling state champion when he beat his nemesis 2-1 for the 1A-5A 220 title.

“My first reaction is just, ‘Wow;’ I didn’t think I’d get this far,” Montgomery said. “I started believing in myself more and more and I ended up beating him in the end.”

It was the fifth time the two have met this season and all have been decided by one point or overtime. The difference this time, Montgomery said, was wrestling his match instead of Allison’s.

The senior took a 1-0 lead in the second period and was awarded a caution point in the third after Allison false-started twice from the bottom position.

Teammates have said Allison’s focus was a strong as they’ve ever seen it, to the degree he left his cell phone at home. The sophomore had a lot of pent-up frustration. Two years ago he missed the tournament due to an injury he suffered in the County Championship and last year he didn’t place.

His focus was tested throughout the match, however, due to an ill-fitting headgear that kept interrupting the flow of the match.

“It was amazing to finally beat him,” Montgomery said. “I’ve been trying to drive and get to him ever since he dropped down to 220 (after Christmas) just to take it. I’ve been grinding to get to him, staying after practice, stuff like that.”

IT WASN’T ALL ROSES: The finals got off to a tough start for Calhoun County wrestlers, though, when Alexandria’s Jaden New, a seventh-grader, appeared to have his senior opponent pinned after springing a slick move late to flip the match.

New had his opponent on his back for the entire final 20 seconds, but never got the call. He lost his match 13-6. Knop called it “heartbreaking.”

“Three years ago I made a plan to get a state championship medal,” New said. “I thought I had him on his back and I guess the refs didn’t see it. I’m really disappointed to know I have to go home and know that I got second.

“Now I’m just going to go home and watch the video and see the mistakes I did to improve for next year.”

Cleburne County senior Tyler Mayfield owned the 1A-5A 152 bracket after beating Deshler’s Channing Marmann 4-0 for his second title in three years. Mayfield said he was driven by the disappointment of last year’s second-place finish.

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