Tallassee wrestling

File / The Tribune Tallassee senior Zack Haynes is a four-time state placer for the Tigers.

The Tallassee wrestling program is no stranger to success but the Tigers fell short of their goals last season and now the challenge gets even tougher after seeing seven of their top wrestlers graduate. Tallassee will have to replace four state qualifiers, including two state placers, among those seven graduates who combined for a 198-65 record last season. 

“It seems like every time you lose a large senior class, you’re going to take a step back,” Tallassee coach John Mask said. “We did lose a lot but we still have great expectations for the ones coming behind them. Some of them do not have as much mat experience but we definitely believe they can do great things.”

One of the big names to replace will be Andy Baker, who finished second at 182 in Class 1A-5A last season. Mask said this will be the first time without a Baker on the roster in more than a decade as the family has produced 10 state medals and two state champions. 

“That is sad but I know they will be in the stands rooting for us the whole time,” Mask said. “We are young and we don’t have as much experience as other teams but we expect to win every match. For myself and the boys, we definitely have expectations of having another good year and representing Tallassee well.”

The Tigers will be relying on a group of returning wrestlers led by lone senior Zack Haynes. Haynes battled through injuries last season but still finished fourth at 132 in his fourth state tournament appearance.

Mason Bell also has high expectations entering the season after finishing sixth in the state at 152 as a sophomore.

“I’m expecting great things for them,” Mask said. “They are leaders for us and I need them to set good examples at practice. Those should be my two captains this year. Nobody works harder than them.”

Bell was listed as the No. 3 wrestler at 152 in the Alabama Wrestling Coaches’ preseason rankings. Mask said there was definitely some excitement for Bell for the recognition but Mask wants to use that list as motivation to Bell and everyone else.

“Those are the things that should drive the other guys to get on the list,” Mask said. “Zack Haynes is a four-time state placer and he was left off the list. That’s exciting for him to work toward. Our goal is to hopefully have three or four on that list at the end of the year.”

Preston Tidwell is another returning wrestler who made it to state last season at 113 as a freshman. Mask said he also has high expectations for Brendan Emfinger who is back after going 38-14 at 106 last season. Christian McCarry and Will Lackey are also expected to play a vital role in the starting lineup but Mask said most weight classes are still up in the air until the Tigers get closer to the first match Nov. 21 against Auburn and Prattville.

“There are a few guys that wrestled last year that can take a jump this season,” Mask said. “We expect them to do well. We’re going to work hard,” Mask said. “We have to start with the basics and build yourself up for that first match but my goal has always been to peak at the end of the year.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.