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Photo Credit: Photo By Scott Lowe

Lady Senators Claim First State Championship

Two days. 191 points. 

That is all it took for the girls wrestling team to capture the first 6A-7A Alabama High School Athletic Association’s state tournament. 

The tournament held last month in Birmingham, pitted the Lady Senators against Daphne High School in the match for the title. It took a nine-point victory to seal the deal over the team that entered the tournament as the favorite. 

“This season was great. Everyone improved and expanded on their skills. Everyone was close like a family. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the next season,” sophomore Crystal Smith said.

 Head Coach Ronnie Watson says that it was amazing to see each of the girls succeed and winning the championship was evidence that the girls’ hard work paid off in the end. 

“Each wrestler has their own story and it was great to see each one hit a goal that they have set for themselves,” Watson said. “It was great to see Joy Hawkins, Reagan Grant and Akerah Artis also wrestle for State Championships. That solidified their wins at Queen of the South were more than deserved.”

Senior Aliza Wix-Amaya is one of those stories. She had her heart set on competing in the 235 division. To get to that goal, Watson said Wix-Amaya worked hard to get over the hump, defeating an opponent that she struggled beating last year. 

“That is something they always reiterate to us. So we can look at what we did wrong and so that we can prepare ourselves mentally for the match. We do a lot of hard work in practice and taking care of your body outside of practice is crucial, “ Wix-Amaya said. “Exercising and watching your food regime is important because it does play an effect on your performance. Staying consistent will only make you a better wrestler in the end,”

The Lady Senators accumulated a number of successful wins this season, but  Watson recalls the state championship in which senior Akerah Artis and junior Regan Grant competed just a few weeks ago, as memorable ones. 

“To see what those two have been through in losing last year in the championship matches and how that motivated them during the offseason to hit their goal,” Watson said. 

Artis, considered the school’s first female wrestler, pinned Charlotte Parker of Montgomery Catholic at the 2:36 mark to win the 145-pound division final. 

“I had wrestled my opponent just two weeks prior to the State Tournament and I knew she would be good, but I was a little nervous with butterflies knowing this was my last match as a high school wrestler,” said Artis. “I worked hard to get there and I didn’t want this opportunity to slip away. I want to thank all of my coaches along with both my mother and father as I couldn’t have done this without their support.”

Grant’s story ended with her pinning Arab’s Autumn Boutwell in just 25 seconds to win the 152-pound division. Grant finished runner-up last year and third two years ago, so she set the goal to win the championship in the 2023 season. 

“The girl who beat me moved to a different state. I knew that this was like my best chance to win a state championship. So I knew I had to hit it hard, focus and keep pushing. It was really tiring. But in the end it was well worth it.,” Grant said.

Upperclassmen are not the only successful members of the championship team. Eighth grader, Nadia Smith, competed for the second year. 

“Smith  built this year off of her accomplishments of last year. The new first year wrestlers are coming in and making a huge splash, all in their own way,” Watson said.  “Again each has their own stories and if you know them it makes things so much more special.”

Hawkins will be a senior next year and will be returning to the wrestling team but this time entering as the team captain. 

“Next season I’m excited to be team captain and win my own state championship title like Reagan and Akerah did this year,” Hawkins said. “Compared to other sports I think our girls team is really special. It feels like we are family. I love the girls and the coaches with all my heart and would do anything for them.”

While the wrestlers had their own goals, Watson had his own for the team that were and were not related to wrestling.

“I want each to become a successful team player as well as a team player. To become young people that are beneficial to our community. For most part these young ladies blew that out of the water,” Watson said. “Yes we were not perfect, each has issues of their own but to see how each handles adversary in their own way not just on the mat but in life is mind blowing.”

Despite having grades ranging from 8th to 12th, each wrestler held their own and grew.

“We have 8th graders and seniors this year and each has grown so much. So many of my goals we hit but until those seniors graduate in May, and go off to be successful in their own way, my goals are still pending. The real coaching doesn’t ever end. You are with those athletes years after they compete for the last time. That is what makes it so fulfilling.”

Watson requests that former and current wrestlers carry the program’s pillars with them at all times. Respect, Aggressiveness, Resilience and Excellence.

“I still have former wrestlers text, call and they always talk about RARE. Those same attributes can help in life as well,” Watson said. “Having all 4 is something you rarely find especially in an athlete. Those four attributes are instilled from day one. Never give up on yourself. The one thing in life you should always be able to count on is you, so invest in that.”

I want to thank all of my coaches along with both my mother and father as I could not have done this without their support.

— Akerah Artis

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