Reeltown wrestling

Caleb Turrentine / Tallapoosa Publishers Reeltown’s La’brian Ponds, right, qualified for the state tournament in Huntsville.

It’s been three years in the making for Reeltown and it seems like the third year is the charm for the Rebel wrestling program. Both Carson Baker and Labrian Ponds earned spots at the AHSAA Class 1A-5A Wrestling Championships, putting the Rebels into the state championships for the first time ever.

“The whole school is very excited for them,” Reeltown coach Drew MacKay said. “It’s a pretty huge accomplishment regardless of how long they’ve been wrestling, but for us only having it done for three years is just great.”

Both Baker (145 pounds) and Ponds (195) had to battle back from early losses to make their way to the podium.

Baker started off well enough, taking down Ranburne’s Jard Mcginnis with a pin in the final seconds of the first period. But then Baker met his match in Saint James’ Gabe Robbins, dropping Baker to the consolation bracket.

But he quickly put that loss behind him and rebounded with three straight victories. Baker picked up wins by pin over Thomasville’s Kameron Wright and Montgomery Catholic’s Shawn Sponsler.

“He knew that after he took that first loss, he had to get a lot of wins to keep going,” MacKay said. “The easier way to keep winning is if you do it early, so he just worked on putting the guy on his back and keeping him there.”

Only one of Baker’s victories went the distance and that was against Pike Road’s Jeff Todd. The two went toe to toe but Baker eked out a 9-8 decision.

Baker suffered one more loss, falling to White Plains’ Jaylen Thomas, which dropped him to the seventh-place match. His final victory was a defeat of Satsuma’s Tyler Adams due to injury time, securing him a seventh-place medal and a spot at state.

“After he lost (to Robbins), he realized it was now or never in terms of him making it to state,” MacKay said. “He set a goal to make it to states and for him, it was a big deal to achieve that. He set his mind with what he needed to do and he just kept on winning.”

Ponds’ story was fairly similar. After receiving a bye through the first round, Ponds got his first victory over Nathan Jones, of Elmore County, with a second-period pin. He then fell to Montevallo’s Rankin Allen before battling back. Ponds defeated Pleasanta Valley’s Tekoma Crump by a 9-5 decision and flattened Cleburne County’s Matthew Nolen in 2:33.

Ponds suffered one more defeat but didn’t let that stop him as he pulled out a narrow 3-1 victory over Satsuma’s Gavin Robinson in the fifth-place match.

Despite getting a late start due to football, Ponds has come on really strong this year.

“Labrian is definitely an athlete, so he is one of those guys that will always try to push himself as hard as he can,” MacKay said. “Anytime we do in the room, he’s working at 110% all the time, so that helps you get caught up in the season.

“Labrian’s strength also helps him out. He’s not just one of the strongest guys on the team; he’s one of the strongest guys in the school in general. He just gets after it, and for his size, everyone is surprised at how fast he is.”

At state, both Baker and Ponds will be hunting down a medal and MacKay said it’s definitely possible for both his guys to finish in the top six. The plan for the week of preparation is business as usual with an extra focus on mental preparation.

Regardless of how the Rebels do at state, MacKay is hopeful the pair advancing to the big stage will bring even more attention to the program in the future.

“The guys that we have that aren’t graduating this year, like Labrian and a lot of the other guys we took to sectional, they see it’s obtainable,” MacKay said. “It takes some work. Carson maybe had a handful of wins his first year, but now he’s 24-7 (this season) after just two years. The other guys are seeing what you put in the offseason and during the season as well really makes a difference.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.