February 14, 2013

State wrestling: Northwest Whitfield's Reynolds ready to deliver on potential

When he was only an eighth-grader, Alex Reynolds demonstrated enough talent to beat high school wrestlers.

That’s why the setbacks he faced the past two seasons were so tough to endure.

But this year, the 145-pound Northwest Whitfield High School junior has found a way to endure injuries, tough competition and high expectations while still enjoying success.

Last weekend at Pickens High School, where he was making his first appearance in sectionals — the round in between area and state in the Georgia High School Association’s traditional tournament postseason — Reynolds validated his middle school potential by qualifying for the Class 4A state tournament.

Competition for Classes 4A through 6A begins at 5:30 p.m. today at the Macon Centreplex — Reynolds will be joined by Northwest sophomore Blake Hayes (106 pounds) — with Classes A through 3A starting with the quarterfinals on Friday.

When Reynolds wrestles his first-round match today, it will be a hefty improvement from what happened in 2011 and 2012. His freshman campaign was cut short after he suffered a concussion in his third match at the Area 7-4A traditional tournament, Bruins coach Allen Tucker said. Reynolds still finished sixth, two places away from advancing to sectionals.

Last season, he finished fifth at area — granting him alternate status for sectionals — and Tucker believes Reynolds might have been better if not dealing with an injured elbow. Reynolds lost by one point to a Creekview wrestler in the consolation semifinals, where a win would have guaranteed a trip to the Class 4A West sectional.

“Any time you have a kid who gets hurt or seems like he is snakebit and has bad luck but has talent, it’s discouraging,” Tucker said. “I bet it was discouraging for him, too.”

Reynolds made the most of this year’s Area 7-4A tournament. He finished first in his class, then followed that with a fourth-place finish in the Class 4A West Sectional to earn a spot in the 16-wrestler state bracket.

He has tried to use his hardships as motivation.

“It really got on my nerves, but I guess it helped push me this year so I could do better and place at area, sectionals and go to state,” said Reynolds, who is 41-6 entering the season’s final weekend.

The unfavorable incidents did not go away, though. Reynolds suffered a midseason shoulder tear, which he was still enduring at area, and had a root canal earlier this week after another incident at sectionals.

“I got an elbow to the mouth, and it cracked my tooth,” he said, noting he will wear a face mask at state. “It’s annoying. It’s like it comes back to get me every year.”

Tucker indicates there’s more of a difference this season than Reynolds’ ability to overcome a few wounds, though. Reynolds said the race for a state title in his weight class is wide open, and the competition is top-notch. In years past, he may have been missing some of the necessary skills to stick with his best foes.

“Alex has always been kind of strong and tried to muscle kids,” Tucker said. “He’s gone back to being a technical wrestler (this season). He has beaten kids on his wrestling ability; he doesn’t have to use a lot of muscle. He’s smart, doesn’t give up a lot of points and keeps himself in the match. He’s just a smart wrestler.

“His first couple years, when he would get in a scramble or a tough match, he’d try to throw a muscle move, and it would backfire. His freshman year, he tried to pin everyone, and you just can’t do it. You just can’t pin everyone.”

The gift was always there. Starting at age 7, wrestling always was Reynolds’ main sport. As a seventh-grader, he attended high school camps and wrestled against the smallest Bruins wrestlers. And “he could beat them,” Tucker said. As an eighth-grader at North Whitfield Middle School, he wrestled on the Northwest junior varsity team and “won most of his matches,” Tucker said.

“He was the most talented freshman we had coming,” Tucker said of Reynolds, a three-time North Georgia Middle School Athletic League champion.

Now he has another goal in his sights. His hope for this season was to reach state and finish in the top six, good enough for a place on the medal stand. It would be the desired stride before a state title becomes his aim as a senior.

“That’s honestly what I’m thinking,” Reynolds said. “I’d like to win it this year. It’s really tough competition. Between the top four wrestlers in sectionals, it’s really close. You never know what could happen. I’d love to win it.

“As long as I place, I’d definitely be happy, and I’d definitely want to win it next year as a senior.”

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