Hungry for a title
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
They finished fourth in 2002, third in 2003 and finished runners-up last year. They've gotten closer each of the last three years, but they want to finish where they did in 2000.
There's only one goal for the 2004-05 Hartselle Tiger wrestling team-a state championship.
"We talked about it the first day of practice," Hartselle coach Keith Corder said.
"We all know what happened last year and how bad the feeling was. We're focused on winning a state title."
"It's the ultimate motivation," senior Dennis Smith said. "Finishing second was the worst disappointment we've had as a team. Personally it's the worst disappointment of my life.
"Second in state may mean a lot for some people, but it meant nothing to us."
"It was nothing short of awful," senior Hunter Brasher said. "I can't explain how disappointed we were. I didn't even want to go up and get the second place trophy."
On Jan. 31, the Tigers finished second to Homewood, 106 to 102.5 during the 5A-state championship meet.
It was the closet finish in the state finals in Alabama High School history. While accepting the state runners-up trophy, not one veteran Tiger wrestler smiled.
They had a higher goal in mind. Second place wasn't good enough.
"I think the guys are still ticked off about it," Corder said. "When they're tired and don't feel good, I'll remind them of it, and I think it'll drive them to get where we want to be."
"We got together as a team after working out two or three times each week this summer," Brasher said. "We talked about not wanting that sick feeling of getting second. We're determined to finish higher this year."
The Tigers appeared primed to take the next step as only one wrestler graduated from last year's squad, which compiled a 24-4 match record. Ben Eubanks, who posted a 42-10 mark and finished third in the state, was the only senior on the 2003-04 team.
A strong nucleus of seniors will lead the 2004-05 squad. Smith, Brasher, Brett Bidwell, Luke Mize, Chad Vest, Corey Farmer, Kurt Hamilton, Adam Faulk and Travis Lightle are all returning starters from last season.
In their first three years on the varsity, those nine have led Hartselle to three-straight North Sectional titles.
In addition, two more seniors Lee McCravy and JD Glenn will see mat time.
Andrew Watson and Brad Eubanks are the only two juniors on this year's Tigers. Hartselle will have six sophomores on the roster: Jake Watkins, Max Sutton, Dallas Kalber, Caleb Blanton, Matt Zartuche and David Ford.
In addition, three freshman, Rico Elliot, Andrew Durham and Barrett Eubanks, are all returning.
The Tigers will soon begin two-a-day workouts in preparation for the season opener on Dec. 3-4 at the Huntsville's Invitational.
Because of their past success, the Tigers look at their regular season schedule differently from most high school teams, Smith explained.
"The regular season is just one long practice session for us," Smith said. "Yes, we want to win the matches, but we look at each match as an opportunity to learn something that can help us at the state tournament.
"Coach Corder puts as tough a schedule together as possible and it helps to make us better as the year goes along."
Brasher said the players are inspiring each other and pushing one another in preseason practices so they can avoid the disappointment of earlier this year.
"When I see guys working hard it motivates me," Brasher said. "Luke Mize has been in the finals three times, Corey Farmer twice, Adam Faulk, Kurt Hamilton and Dennis Smith have all been in the finals, but I see those guys pushing themselves and working hard. It makes me want to push myself as hard as them, so I can and place higher than third like I did last year."
Smith summed up the Tiger's mind-set for the upcoming season.
"I don't want to sound big-headed about this, but we feel we have the best team in the state," Smith said.
"The state title is there for us to take. All we have to do now is work for it."