Briarwood bass fishing wins first state title since 2021

Published 5:34 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

DECATUR – The Briarwood Christian School bass fishing team returned to a familiar place: the top of the state, as it won the 2024 state championship on Wheeler Lake in Decatur on Saturday, May 11.

However, it’s a place that the Lions have not been since 2021, making their first state championship in three years that much sweeter for coach Josh Jones and his team.

“It’s incredible,” Jones said of the win. “Our guys have worked really hard over the last couple of years.”

After their last state title in 2021, Jones described the last three years as a “rebuilding phase” for the program.

Part of that rebuild included investing in the youth and helping them improve. Briarwood only had one senior on its 2024 team and just a handful of juniors as it filled its ranks with underclassmen supported by a strong junior high program.

The other part included testing out boat partners and building chemistry between them. Each of Briarwood’s seven boats have two fishermen in it, and two people teaming together brings a lot of factors to consider and skills to develop according to Jones.

“Having chemistry in the boat is a really big deal when it comes to fishing because it’s truly a team sport, and anytime you’re fishing with a new partner, it takes some time to get used to the other partner’s style, their personality, their desires as a fisherman, what they’re looking to do, what their goals are, aligning those goals, and then ultimately creating a plan during practice and during tournament days to make sure that they execute at a high level,” Jones said.

It’s not something that develops overnight and without challenges. Jones said that those relationships are crucial to succeeding in competitions.

“That takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of forgiveness as well, too, believe it or not, because when you’re stuck in the boat with someone for six hours in a day, you can definitely rub each other the wrong way,” Jones said. “And so, building that relationship of being able to compromise and come up with the best plan is a big deal and a key to our success at Briarwood.”

That development over time was on full display this season and culminated with top finishes at multiple big tournaments.

The Lions won tournaments on Pickwick Lake and Logan Martin Lake, finished second on Neely Henry Lake and Guntersville Lake and took third at Wheeler Lake.

“We started this season off kind of slow and then just built up really, really quickly,” Jones said. “So, these guys, they put in a lot of hard work and effort, and they battled a lot of really bad weather as well too over the season and came away with the win.”

Those results put them in first place going into the state championship on May 10-11.

However, things quickly changed on day one of the competition when the Lions struggled to catch the fish they needed.

“We struggled day one,” Jones said. “We just didn’t get the bites that we needed. There were a couple of boats that did get the bites but didn’t land the fish.”

Add in 30 mph winds to the mix, and that produced four-to-five-foot seas which made fishing even less practical and more dangerous.

“Now, four-to-five-foot seas in the Gulf of Mexico is one thing, but four-to-five-foot seas in a bass boat is a different story, not only from a safety perspective, but also from, ‘can you catch fish in those types of conditions?’” Jones said.

Because of that, Briarwood slipped into second place in the season-long standings behind Evangel Christian by the slimmest of margins after day one. That meant the Lions needed a big haul in day two to come back and win the championship, and that’s exactly what they did.

“The winds held off early and we had some more favorable boat numbers on day two and our guys were really able to dial it in and get the bites that they needed and finish strong,” Jones said.

As a result, Briarwood’s top boats turned in big numbers. Within the competition, each boat counted its three heaviest fish for its bag, and the top three boats of the eight the Lions brought to state counted towards the team score.

David Campbell and Carter Fountain turned in the biggest bag at 17.29 pounds. Ethan McBrayer and Zac King were second with 16.82 points and Alex Marshall and Peyton Justice were third at 13.44 pounds.

The Lions also saw success from its non-scoring boat pairs of Knox Jones and Rock Fulton, Ken Azar and Evan Griffin, Brady and Andrew McCormick and Eli Slayton and Barrett Grant.

Those numbers were enough to push Briarwood over the top and secure the Team of the Year title and state championship over Evangel in second place and Benjamin Russell in third.

In addition to the high school team’s success this season, the Lions junior high team had a big season as well and finished fourth in the state.

During the junior high season, seventh graders Preston Howard and Jackson Watts won first place at both Guntersville Lake and Pickwick Lake, Frank Falkner and Huddy Smith came in first at Neely Henry Lake and fourth at Pickwick Lake and solo fisher Lleyton Moore came in third at Logan Martin Lake.

With Briarwood counting multiple collegiate and professional anglers as alumni, Jones said that their legacies weighed heavy on the team to live up to their championship standards.

With the Lions finally returning to the top of the state, this year’s team can now claim a championship that will sit alongside those achievements of their past alumni for years to come.

“Oh, it’s such a big deal,” Jones said of winning the state title. “Briarwood has a rich history of incredible anglers. We have Tucker Smith, Hayden Marbut, that went on to win two national championships at Auburn and Tucker is now fishing in in the professional series. The Wall Street Journal and ESPN has touted Briarwood fishing as the face of high school fishing. So, there’s lots of pressure on our kids to perform at a very high level. And so, for us to be back on top and win another state championship, it’s a really big deal.”