No excuses for this year's Tigers
A year after winning a state title, Hartselle has its eyes set on repeating
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
When new Hartselle wrestling coach Dan Styles needed to come up with a slogan for the team's T-shirts this year, he used the three R's.
"Rebuild? Reload? Repeat!," Styles said of this year's motto. "We're not out to make excuses this year."
The Tigers lose 10 seniors from last year's state championship team, but first-year coach Styles is not about to let his team use their inexperience as an excuse. Hartselle returns two state runner-ups and six starters, but also includes numerous new faces.
"Everybody loses kids to graduation," Styles said. "Last year was an unreal wrestling team. We've got a lot of work to do and a long way to go to even be in the vicinity of the level of that team. We've got a lot of guys coming out for the first time this year, some of them younger and some of them older. We definitely have our work cut out for us.
"But at the same time, we're not going to fall back on the excuse of, 'Well, this is a rebuilding year.' The bar has been set and it's up to these guys to reach it."
Styles, who coached Class 6A Sparkman to a 12th-place finish in the 2004-05 season, replaces Keith Corder who resigned in April to spend more time with his family. It hasn't taken the rookie coach long to soak up Hartselle's winning tradition.
"In a lot of ways it's made my job easier because the tradition's already here," Styles said. "What I have to determine now is what I want to do new and what I want to maintain that's been done in the past. If it's not broken you don't need to try and fix it. Right now the kids are doing a lot of the same things they've done before, but we're also trying to add a few new things."
Hartselle's team has just three seniors this year, with Andrew Watson and Brad Eubanks serving as the team captains. Korbyn Kelly, the third senior member, is in his first year of wrestling. The Tigers include six juniors, three sophomores and freshmen and one eighth-grader on their 2005-06 roster.
One of those sophomores is Rico Elliott, who finished as state runner-up in the 103-pound division in 2004-05. He will move up to the 119-pound division this season. Eubanks is also a returning state runner-up, after finishing second at state in the heavyweight division last season.
During Thanksgiving break, Styles also had the opportunity to bring back two graduated seniors from last year's state champions. Kurt Hamilton, who was the state champion in the 171-pound division, and Dennis Smith, who finished in third place in the 145-pound division, were able to take some time off from their college wrestling schedules to visit the Tigers for a few practices.
"It was great to have the holidays and give some of our previous players a chance to return," Styles said. "They're both wrestling in college now, so I think the kids can relate to them a little better since they've been there before and know what our kids are going through right now. It's definitely been beneficial having them here. I just wish they could stay a lot longer."
Hartselle's schedule is brutal this year, but Styles believes that playing tough competition will help get the Tigers prepared to defend their state championship. Hartselle opened its season Tuesday with a dual-meet against Sparkman and Scottsboro in Scottsboro.
"(That meet) will give us an idea of the level of competition we'll be facing and we'll need to beat in order to repeat as state champions," Styles said. "This coming weekend we've got the Huntsville Invitational, which is kind of our traditional opener and always features some great teams from around the state.
"We're going to two matches in Tennessee and have a difficult tournament in January at the Grissom Duals. Some of these tournaments are going to be very difficult, but that's going to help us come sectionals and state."
Hartselle's sectional opponents this season are Arab, Athens, Buckhorn, Butler, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Huntsville, J.O. Johnson, Lee-Huntsville, Oxford, Scottsboro and Southside-Gadsden. The sectional tournament will be at Huntsville from Jan. 27-28.