Russell County’s Will Stephens and Lucas Wray were the runners-up at this weekend’s KHSAA Bass Fishing State Tournament.
The duo brought in 23 pounds, 12 ounces, which was within striking distance of the first-place weigh-in of 25 pounds, 2 ounces.
“One fish was the difference of it,” head coach Shannon Stephens said of how close they were to the top spot. “You couldn’t have asked anything more from these kids. We were just very blessed to be a part of it.”
After Day 1 on Friday, Wray and Stephens were in fourth place and not far out of first place, but they knew it wouldn’t be easy to leapfrog to the top.
“We knew going into the second day that we could maybe get the win, but it was going to be tough,” Wray said, “because it was really tough fishing that week. But we made the best of it.”
Wray said Day 2 was a “tough” and “stressful” day because they didn’t hit their five-fish limit until about an hour before the tournament was over. Then, they weren’t able to rid themselves of one fish that was “barely a keeper” right before the tournament ended.
“There were a lot of nerves and worry, but we finally made it happen,” Wray said. “There was a lot of relief when we [reeled in] that last fish.”
“It was a tough day,” Will Stephens added, “but we finally got that one small fish that was barely a keeper culled out with about 10 minutes left … We were just excited to get that little one out of there.”
Seniors Nick Aaron and Clay Ferguson also competed in the state tournament, making it the first time in the program’s history that two teams qualified for state. They finished in 71st place, and Coach Stephens said the duo nearly reeled in a big fish that would have helped improve their final standing.
With only 89 teams qualifying for state out of more than 400 boats who participated at the region level, Coach Stephens said getting to the state tournament is “the tough part, and when you get there, whatever happens, happens.”
“We were blessed with two teams going into it,” Coach Stephens said. “Just getting there to the big dance is a great accomplishment for those two seniors because they’ve done something that a lot of other seniors have never done on the Russell County bass fishing team.
“I’m very proud of them, and as a team, we’ve fished hard all year long, and the kids from our junior team and from the high school team, they’ve all fished hard and showed up and represented Russell County very well.”
Coach Stephens thanked the school system for having a bass fishing team, as well as all of the sponsors in the community for their support.
He hopes that this year’s success will continue for bass fishing teams in the years to come.
“I hope all of the kids that come through have a chance to go to [state] and represent Russell County, because it’s not an easy task to get there but it was a good experience,” he said.
And for Wray and Stephens, who are both juniors, getting that state tournament experience will only make them strive even harder to return next year and win it all.
“It feels really great,” Wray said. “It’s an accomplishment, for sure, and we couldn’t do it without everybody: our sponsors, parents, coaches, and everything like that. But that makes everything worth it and pushes us to try our best and make things happen.
“[This experience] will just make us feel like we can do it a lot more and make us push and work harder and try to get the win next year.”