It was like night and day for the Elizabeth wrestling team last season. The Cardinals had qualified nine wrestlers for the state tournament in 2011, but could only count two on the mats in downtown Denver last season.
Gavril Houston and Dylan Bergett were able to make the trip back to the 4A championships, but there might have been three had Josh Lee overcome his injuries. Houston, a junior, won one match at 120, but was eliminated shortly after losing two. Bergett lost both his matches at 138.
Elizabeth coach Gary Martin is optimistic about this season, but still has a fairly young team under his tutelage. And, he’s looking forward to Houston and Bergett helping to supply the leadership on the mat the Cardinals need.
“Our two captains are Gav and Dylan and they bring a lot to the team,” Martin said. “Gav is one of the smartest kids that I’ve ever coached. He’s driven. His top choice for college right now is the Air Force Academy. Dylan is just an out and out hard worker. He’s a bear and likes to mix it up and his weight gain should certainly help.”
Martin welcomed 35 wrestlers this season, but even with that number, do not have the necessary youngsters to fill all the weight classes.
“We lack the bigger weights this season,” Martin said. “I’ve got a bunch at 126-138-pounds. Still, I feel that we could have a good season. There is a lot of enthusiasm and it’s a season the kids are looking forward to.
Houston compiled a 49-31 record over the past two years. It’s a mark he definitely wants to see grow in the win column.
“To me, making state is a source of motivation as I haven’t accomplished what I’ve wanted,” Houston said. “I haven’t been at the top of my game where I feel I can reach and I want my body ready. The key is a lot of good things are happening in practice, just go-go-go.
“I’m a defensive wrestler,” said Houston who may drop to 120 after Christmas. “I’m OK on my feet, but I feel I have a lot of strength when it comes to getting off the bottom. My mom always tells me there is no time like the present and this is the present.”
Bergett carried an impressive 28-4 mark into last years state meet, but he admits it didn’t help him.
“I’d never wrestled before a crowd that large before,” said Bergett, a senior who plans to open the season at 145-pounds. “I was really nervous and unsettled by it, just a nervous wreck. I know how to face that type of a situation now.
“I think I’ve got a good chance to get back again,” Bergett said. “My key has been the training and working a lot harder than I have in the past.”
Lee qualified at 103 when he was a freshman, but was out in two matches.
“Josh is getting bigger and getting back where he wants to be,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to his contributions this season and he’s ready.”
Elizabeth also has a competitive set of brothers that Martin feels will also make valuable contributions this season. Both the Leonard brothers, junior John and sophomore Rob, came close in their efforts to make the trip to Denver.
“Our hopes are certainly high for both,” Martin said. “They have a lot of determination and they push each other hard. That’s what we like to see from all the kids.”
Martin is also expecting good things from juniors Kevin Parades and Tyler Green.
“Kevin was a standout on the football team this season and we hope he continues his trend,” Martin said. “Tyler’s got the potential, too. But for all the guys, it’s going to be interesting to see how they progress.”
There appears to be some fine talent available for Kiowa and coach Ryan Witzel, but like many of the smaller programs this season high numbers are not available. The Indians only have eight wrestlers in the program this season and will only compete in tournaments.
That number took a hit this past weekend when Kiowa lost one of its three seniors, Tyler Daughenbaugh, to and injury. The Indian’s 160-pounder will be out of the lineup until after the Christmas break.
“Tyler suffered a dislocated elbow in the Peyton tournament,” Witzel said. “He was also one of our best football players, just a fine overall athlete, and we’ll be looking for his return. He has all the qualities to qualify for state.”
While losing Daughenbaugh comes as a shock for Witzel and his squad, the remaining seven could fair quite well for Kiowa. Especially when two, Aidan Osborn and Jesse Evans, are returning state qualifiers. Osborn begins the season at 170 while Evans opened the year at 182. And, it was a pretty good opening for both as they both picked up championships in the Peyton tournament.
“Aidan is solid, a good quality young man who should make it back,” Witzel said. “He is team leader, very focused in what he wants to accomplish. Jesse also has the talent and willingness to put out for the team and is a fine leader, as well. Both came away with a win at state last season, but this year, we’re looking for more from them.”
And more is what Osborn want’s to deliver.
“I’m confident and excited about the season,” Osborn said. “I worked hard over the summer with Greco and freestyle and that’s certainly going to help me. I want to stay focused and work hard, but I’m not about to overlook any of my opponents.”
Two juniors, Connor Wills (145) and Joey Thomas (152, sophomores Bryce Wasson (132) and Andrew Ban (138) and freshman A.J. Smith (106) round out the Kiowa lineup.
“Connor also won at Peyton,” Witzel said. “He is just a talent wrestler, scrappy, a go-getter, motivated and focused. He placed sixth in the region last year, but we feel he has an excellent opportunity to reach state this season.”
Ban placed third at Peyton and Witzel feels he is going to be a fine asset for the team this season.
“Andrew is a talent athlete with a lot of ups,” Witzel said. “He is also a very fine cross country runner and that facet of being in shape over the long distance is sure to help him even more.
“A.J. just started wrestling in middle school last year and found he really likes the sport,” said Witzel, who is also the Kiowa athletic director.
Witzel also feels that Thomas and Wasson could be headed for a fine season.
“They have progressed will since the opening of practice,” Witzel said. “We’re hoping that they will surprise a lot of guys this season and I think they can do it.”
Tournaments, always tournaments.
That’s the situation faced by Simla coach Daren Teller and his Cubs and it’s not a situation he would like to have on the wrestling calendar this season. But with only six boys on the team that’s just about the way it has to be.
“We will not have any dual meets, but we will try and be at a tournament each weekend,” Teller said. “With a team this small, that’s probably not that bad. The key, of course, is to stay healthy and that’s not how things went last year. We want the kids to get good mat time. Andy Duffy will be my assistant and his help with the boys is essential.”
Three of the wrestlers, Damian Bell, Logan Potter and Michael Otterman, had to deal with injuries last season. Bell is a junior 170-pounder and he missed all of last year. He’s one of those the Cubs will certainly have to rely on. But for that matter, all six will have to be relied on.
Otterman had a concussion that took him out for a while. Potter was a transfer from Iowa last season, but he also faced injuries. Certainly, the key for the Cubs is for this half dozen to just stay healthy.
Senior Dustin Campbell, a state qualifier last year at 160, and Bell have the most overall experience on the squad. Campbell will be up a couple of weight classes going at 182 this time around. Bell is slated for 170-pounds. Otterman, who will begin the season at 160, and Aaron VanZoeren at 152, are only in their second year of competition. Adding to the youth angle is junior Alberto Deolevria, an exchange student from Brazil, who is only in his very first year of wrestling and ticketed to go at either 138 or 145.
“I feel that Dustin has a good opportunity to finish among the top two in the region and go back to state,” Teller said. “He was fourth in the region a year ago and lost both his matches at state. But he has much more speed and quickness and strength overall and that experience will certainly be a key.”
Teller said that VanZoeren got off to a slow start last year, but was able to finish strong. Otterman is looking strong, as well.
The question mark this season is how Deolevria will take to the mat once the season gets underway.
“Alberto just seems to get better each time he has stepped out on the mat in practice,” Teller said. “He has fallen in love with the sport. He’s very coach able and I think we can expect a lot of good things from him this season.
“Logan was a transfer from Iowa last year and I think has some excellent potential, too,” Teller said. “He’s also in his second year of wrestling, but he did fine in the Arkansas Valley duals, too. He’s up a weight from last season and I think ready to go.”