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Brian Tannehill / For The Outlook Tallassee’s Christian McCary, top, has been on fire lately and is the Elmore County Player of the Week.

Everyone knows of the challenges COVID-19 is bringing to the world of sports this season and with those challenges still at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it has been easy to push aside the changes that come with this year’s wrestling season. Of course, that has not been easy to do for Class 5A schools as their road to state championships became much more difficult this season, moving from competing against schools between 1A and 4A to facing off with 6A schools.

Tallassee is one of those programs who have had a tremendous amount of success in the former classification and even though they expect the same thing this year, there is no denying it will be tougher.

“This is a year unlike any other,” Tallassee coach John Mask said. “I don’t know what I’ll have from one day to the next so we are just blessed to have every day. It’s going to be different and very tough this year but the guys are excited to face all of those challenges.”

While the new classification may not change Tallassee’s preparation for the season, the pandemic has already come into play. Mask said he is limiting wrestlers’ contact with each other, scripting practices to have the same matchups as much as possible to limit contact tracing if anyone ever has to quarantine. The Tigers are emphasizing safety first.

“I meet with them every day and stress the importance of following the rules to give us the best chance of having a season,” Mask said. “We’re still working extremely hard and we’re moving forward. You may be limited in how many people you work with but practice still looks mostly the same. We are still Tallassee.”

Tallassee has five returning wrestlers who qualified for last year’s state tournament and even with all of the changes to this season, the expectations of success are still there. However, the Tigers did not have a single wrestler in the preseason coaches’ rankings and Mask said he cannot remember the last time that happened.

“That speaks to how tough it’s going to be but it’s definitely some motivation,” Mask said. “There are some individuals that feel like they are in contention to be in those rankings. We know it’s going to be tough and it may take a Herculean effort to get to that. The kids know what’s ahead of them.”

Mason Bell is one of the returning state qualifiers as he is looking to make it to that stage for the third straight season. However, Bell is expected to be out for an extended period of time to start the season along with seven or eight other wrestlers according to Mask.

“It’s going to help build depth,” Mask said. “A lot of those young kids are going to get chances. And because of all of this going on, we need everyone to be ready.”

Christian McCary is the team’s lone returning state medalist from a year ago and his expectations are rising even higher for this season as he moves up to either the 138 or 145 weight division.

“The sky is the limit for him,” Mask said. “He’s very talented and he’s always been a hard worker. He’s continued to grow physically and mentally. We’re definitely looking for great things from him.”

Land Bell, Brendan Emfinger and Jake Debardelaben are also returning as they look to build off last season after qualifying for the state tournament.

The Tigers hopes to have a better picture of their lineup to start the season when they have their first wrestle-off bouts in practice this week. They start the season Thursday at Auburn.  

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.