State field unkind to Chieftains
Tonganoxie junior James Hartshorn missed the State wrestling semifinals by just a Tad.
More specifically, El Dorado's Tad Greer. The sophomore held on for a 6-2 decision against Hartshorn in the 215-pound quarterfinals. Hartshorn then dropped a slim decision to Circle's Ty Patton, 3-1 and finished the tournament 1-2.
Greer sported an interesting look at State. He had a black mask to protect his break-prone nose and a wrapped left hand that was damaged because he punched a locker. The sophomore finished in second place after losing to Jordan Bedore in the finals with a fall at the 3:33 mark.
Hartshorn, meanwhile, was the only Chieftain to score a victory.
Freshman Andy Koontz lost to Augusta's J.J. Pitman 11-3 in the opening round of the 103-pound class, then dropped his consolation match to Pratt's Aaron Bladsi, 11-7.
In the 112-pound division, fellow freshman Ross Starcher lost to Abilene's Josh Peterson by fall with seven seconds left in the second period. He finished the tournament in the consolation bracket as well, losing a heartbreaker to Coffeyville's Tracy Brandon, 5-4.
Senior Pat Weyer dropped two matches in the 160-pound class, first to Chapman's Zac Sheets by fall after 1:17, then to El Dorado's Chad Hamilton, 5-3, in the consolation bracket. Koontz finished 22-8, Starcher finished the season 32-9, while Weyer ended his final season 21-17.
THS coach Bill DeWitt hoped the state experience would be beneficial next year.
"For one reason or the other we just didn't get the job done,' DeWitt said. "We certainly can compete down at State, but we have to keep doing a better job of finishing matches."
Clay Center won the team title with 100.5 points, while Goodland took second. Baldwin took sixth, while Basehor-Linwood was seventh. Kaw Valley League champion Santa Fe Trail finished in 18th.
The Chieftains finished the season with a 12-3 dual record, added stronger tournaments, such as the Salina South Invitational and had four second-place finishes at other large tournaments, along with another first-place finish at the Onaga Classic.
But in the last three weeks, Tonganoxie took third at the league meet, seventh at regionals and qualified fewer wrestlers for State than a year ago.
"There was a point in the season when we were hitting on all cylinders," DeWitt said. "I don't think we looked as good toward the end."
DeWitt pointed to the winter storm late last month and the unexpected break it forced as trouble spots this year.
"I knew one of two things would happen," DeWitt said. "We'd come back and be really refreshed and focus, or the break would come and it would be hard to crank back up.
"Unfortunately, I think the latter happened."
For the Chieftains to be successful next year, DeWitt thought his wrestlers must stay focused and conditioned.
"It's kind of like you go to church every Sunday," DeWitt said. "It becomes habit. You miss one time, the next time it's 'aahh, I can miss.'"
The season did have its highlights. Ross Starcher broke the school record for wins with 32, while Steve Adcox (31-7) tied the former record set by Brian Keitzman in 1996. The Chieftains also defeated Basehor-Linwood in dual action for the first time in DeWitt's tenure, and Koontz and fellow freshman Hunter Samuels combined for a 31-11 record in the 103-pound division.
"We only lose five seniors, so we'll have to get after it," DeWitt said. "Next year could be very good for us."
If next year is productive, the Chieftains could send more wrestlers to State, and that could mean a run on hair dye at local stores.
Numerous wrestlers colored their hair for State. Last year, Chieftain wrestlers donned red crowns, while this year they went blonde. DeWitt colored his hair last year, but passed this season.
"It has become a tradition," DeWitt said. "I don't think I will again, unless we win a regional or something.
"It's nice but I think personally it takes away from their focus, and then it becomes more of a carnival atmosphere. You should color your hair after you win State."
Team members who didn't qualify for State also dyed their hair, and DeWitt saw that as a positive in building team unity. The THS coach then summed up a wrestler's characteristic.
"Wrestlers are kind of goofy to begin with," DeWitt said.