PELL CITY — Kyle Routon literally turned the heat up on his Oxford wrestlers, and the Yellow Jackets lit for another run in the state duals tournament.
Led by Most Outstanding Wrestler Reed Hill, Oxford swept four duals in the Class 6A, Region 3 tournament Friday at Pell City High School, earning the right to play host to the quarterfinals.
Oxford beat Opelika 60-24, runner-up Benjamin Russell 51-24, Russell County 59-21 and Pell City 61-15. Paired with three victories in a meet at Southside, and Oxford’s duals record jumped back over .500 for the season, now 15-12.
Oxford, 6A’s top-ranked team in the state coaches’ poll, does duals. The Alabama High School Athletic Association started a state duals-format tournament in 2017, and the Yellow Jackets have won it every year of its existence.
They started the run for their fourth state duals title Friday.
“It’s a big thing,” said Hill, a senior, two-time state duals weight-class champion, one-time traditional state champion and three-time Calhoun County champion. “This is almost as big as winning the finals, to us.”
Heat to keep the duals string going shot up a few degrees Wednesday. In fact, it shot up to exactly 90 degrees in the Yellow Jackets’ training room.’
Routon, unhappy with the effort in Tuesday’s practice, made his point at the thermostat.
“I made several puke,” Routon said. “I turned up the heat on them, just to kind of wake them up. I told them at the end, ‘Don’t be the first team in Oxford history that doesn’t win it.’
“Survive and pass it on to the next year and keep the thing rolling. They responded like they want to do that.”
Oxford’s regional round-robin included 4-0 performances by Garrett Howell (120 pounds), Chase Hicks (132), Jakob Chisolm (145), Kendrick Young (152), Hill (160) and Tristen Latham (170). Keeshon Siaosi (182) went 3-1 on the day.
Fifth-ranked Benjamin Russell brought Oxford’s toughest competition, with Pell City next.
“We’ve never beat Benjamin Russell that bad,” Hill said. “It’s always been close. We prepare for it, weeks out.”
Hill’s rematch against Benjamin Russell’s Saxon Coker became the unexpected highlight of the day. Hill beat Coker 3-0 in last year’s traditional state 152-pound championship. Hill bumped up in class to 160 this season, and Benjamin Russell coach Michael Ransaw asked Coker to wrestle up and face Hill again, on Friday.
It meant a change of strategy for Hill, who brushed off his approach to Coker from last year’s state final.
“I had to be more defensive,” Hill said. “He’s hard to wrestle, so I was going to try to capitalize off his mistakes.”
Hill recovered from a takedown and pinned Coker, much to Hill’s pleasant surprise.
“Last year at state, I came really close to getting him in a tilt,” Hill said. “I knew I was just going to keep going after a tilt and not stopping, and I got it.”
Routon called Hill’s victory at that point in the dual with Benjamin Russell “huge” because of what it meant for the rest of Oxford’s lineup.
“We knew they had a forfeit at top,” Routon said. “Once Reed pinned, we needed one more win out of 70, 82 or 95, so that kind of finished it off right there.”
Oxford finished off Benjamin Russell then beat Russell County and Pell City. The Yellow Jackets opened the day by beating Opelika.
It marked a strong outing for a team that had its full lineup available for the first time this season. Siaosi, Chanceton Holifield and Octavius Adair, all part of the school’s 6A title run in football, went a combined 7-2 on the day.
Heavyweight Kobe Shumaker, just emerging from the flu, went 2-1. Adair fought through a sore sternum, the result of a teammate falling on him in practice, and went 2-0.
“We used him when we had to have him,” Routon said.
Regionals mark the first layer for state duals competition. Quarterfinals pick up Jan. 17, and the tournament concludes Jan. 24.
The format Oxford has mastered has heated up, but so has Oxford.
“Nobody’s dethroned us yet,” Routon said.
Class 6A, Region 3
All-Region Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Wrestler
Reed Hill, Oxford
106-Shelby Fugate, Russell County
113-Blaze Isbell, Pell City
120-Garrett Howell, Oxford
126-Ny’Shaad Hannon, Benjamin Russell
132-Robbie Charsa, Benjamin Russell
138-Chase Hicks, Oxford
145-Jakob Chisolm, Oxford
152-Saxon Coker, Benjamin Russell
162-Kendrick Young, Oxford
170-Hezekiah Hunter, Benjamin Russell
182-Keeshon Siaosi, Oxford
195-Ben Daughtry, Opelika
220-Cole Danielson, Russell County
285-James Dawson, Opelika