HUNTSVILLE — One Alexandria state wrestling champion measures his performance by a personal standard, not a trophy.
Another Valley Cub champion, sapped by a third-place finish a year ago, nearly didn’t come back for his senior season.
A third champion, an eighth-grader 12 months haunted by the pin that wasn’t, laid it to rest with the pin that was Saturday.
It doesn’t go down as a team championship. Alexandria finished third to now-six-time defending champion Arab and Scottsboro, but there’s a story behind nearly all 112.5 points the Valley Cubs scored over three days in the Von Braun Center.
Take it from the coach that lived every story with his wrestlers and had a moment to size up the accumulation of outcomes in an emotionally bipolar, mano-a-mano sport.
“We started off with a lot of momentum,” Frank Hartzog said. “We had some things not go our way, but we still battled back.
“I mean, third is one place higher than last year. We scored more points, and we talked about that. Our goals is to be better every day.”
Which leads this discussion to champion No. 1.
Christian Knop ranks among the top wrestlers to come through Calhoun County. He finished his junior season with a pin of Deshler’s Monquavious Ricks 1:45 into Saturday’s 1A-5A, 182-pound final.
That ran Knop’s winning streak to 164 — 37 off the state record held by Weaver legend Michael Sutton, arguably the best wrestler to call the 256 home.
As Knop sat alone minutes after pinning Ricks, the grin was noticeably lacking from his face.
“It’s definitely good to have a winning streak of such stature,” he said. “I just want to thank all of the people that helped me get through it. It’s definitely an honor to be considered one of the best in Alabama.
“I just want to keep working toward being the best ever.”
Don’t misunderstand Knop, Hartzog said. The coach described his star as “a great kid” and “a goofball off the mat.” There’s just no goofing about wrestling.
“His goals, he holds himself accountable to a higher standard than some people,” Hartzog said. “Some people are like, ‘Well, why does he look upset?’ Well, he didn’t perform to what he thinks he should. Some people take that the wrong way.”
Aaron Whittaker gave a much different look after edging Holtville's Brady Richardson 7-5 in the 152-pound final. Whittaker cried and hugged his coach, and there’s lots of story behind that.
Whittaker had lost to Richardson by the narrowest of margins at sectional. Whittaker saw how Richardson roared through to state finals and feared the same outcome Saturday.
“He pulled up crying and saying, ‘I can’t win,’” Hartzog said. “I said, ‘You just lost by one or two points. You can do it. That’s a winnable match.’”
Hartzog reminded Whittaker of his “phenomenal” conditioning and told him to push the tempo. It worked, and that wasn’t the first time Hartzog found the right words for Whittaker.
After finishing third a year ago, Whittaker had had it. He wasn’t coming back. He really wasn’t coming back. Third hardly seemed worth it.
“It didn’t seem like my hard work was paying off,” he said.
Hartzog reminded Whittaker that his weight class was stacked in 2017. The coach also gave his future champion a picture of regret, 10 years out, if he missed his one chance for a senior season.
“He had to come and talk to me probably five times,” Whittaker said.
Jaden New couldn’t have been more eager to return to Huntsville. He came back from a near technical fall a year ago and scored what everybody in the Von Braun Center but match officials saw as a pin.
“I’ve had people talk about it ever since,” he said. “No one talks about how I almost got teched. They talk about how I should’ve gotten the pin.”
New convinced match officials Saturday with a move he calls the “pancake smash,” a move he’s used since fourth grade. He pinned Arab’s Joseph Martin 1:28 into the match.
Somewhere in the pancake smash zone, old memories gave way for New.
“It’s amazing,” he said.