Because of injuries and illnesses, the Arab wrestling team’s start to the 2020-21 season has been a bit uneven.
The coaches of most state title contenders can probably say much the same thing at this point in the pandemic year of 2020.
But first-year Arab coach Kyle Routon and his staff have seen enough already to be confident about the future.
Maybe even very confident.
“We’re going to be competitive, no matter what,” Routon said Monday.
“We’re in the hunt,” added veteran assistant coach Klay Cranford.
“In the hunt” at Arab means just one thing: winning a state title.
That legacy – or monster – was created by Hall of Fame coach Michael Pruitt, whose teams in the last 10 years claimed 11 state titles, including eight of the traditional variety. His Knights won one of both last season, including their third duals championships.
Routon, Cranford and the rest of the staff – and presumably the wrestlers, too – are intimidated not at all. They seem, in fact, energized by the school’s past success.
A 13-1 start to the season will do that to a team. The Knights opened their home schedule Tuesday night with wins over Corner 66-17 and James Clemens 52-19.
And though Arab’s path to a state title this season will be tougher – it’ll be competing in the newly formed 5A-6A division – that doesn’t seem to faze the Knights, either.
And why should it? Arab’s teams the past 10 years have been highly competitive regardless of their classification. The Knights have won three state championships in 1A-5A (2020, 2018 and 2017); two in 6A (2016 and 2015); and three in 5A (2014, 2013 and 2011).
They’ve also been in the state’s top five going back to 2005.
This season, the Knights already own a victory over three-time 7A defending champion Thompson, 46-32, last Thursday. Both teams were without some front-liners, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying to Arab’s wrestlers and coaches.
“I think they had four out but we had two out,” Routon said, “but, hey, it was a win. Thompson’s B-team can beat a lot of teams.
“We wrestled tough. I’m not sure the last time Arab beat them.”
It was long enough ago to make Arab’s wrestlers a bit tight going in.
“I could tell the whole bus ride, they seemed a bit uneasy,” Routon said. “Then, Bronson Jackson downed his man at 132 (pounds), and from then, they all had a different attitude.”
Jackson is one of 11 starters back but that’s a little misleading. He missed all of last season with an injury which he’s reaggravated this season.
Not only that, Austin Silva was injured during a match against Mountain Brook, leading to the Knights’ lone loss so far, 39-28. The injury will sideline Silva, who finished third in the state last season, for the rest of the season and cost Arab at least a 10-point swing in the loss, according to Routon.
“We wrestled sloppy early on anyway,” he said.
Still, Arab has compiled wins over Hartselle (39-34), Hoover (50-27), Mortimer Jordan (59-18), Hayden (62-9), Springville (63-18), Mortimer Jordan again (48-25), Shades Valley (54-21), Spanish Fort (46-30), Wetumpka (37-35) and Jasper (48-21).
Dakoda Long will slide into Austin Silva’s slot, whether it’s at 132 or 126. Most of the rest of the team hasn’t settled into the weight classes they’re likely to wrestle this season, despite one round of wrestle-offs.
Another round will solidify the Knights’ lineup. But so far, they’ve generally wrestled good wherever they’ve been plugged in, Routon said.
“We’ve not wrestled consistently; we’re not there yet,” Routon said. “We’ve done all right. Now, can we do better? No doubt.”
Among those coming back are returning state champs Cabe Dunn and Jacob Holland and three returning state finalists Caleb Roe, Josh Roe and Patrick Lawler.
In addition to Long, others who figure to battle for positions in the lineup are Ty Collins, Kaden King, Christian Eaton, Jonathan Pugh, Connor Knighten and Cody Morgan.