Riddle me this; Riddle me that
Welcome back, Mr. Riddle.
Wrestling for the first time since mid-December could leave a grappler a bit rusty, but Tonganoxie's Chuck Riddle didn't have many kinks to work out.
Back competing for the first time since breaking his hand two months ago, Riddle reached the consolation finals at Saturday's 4A regional in Hoyt and ensured his first trip to state.
"I just wanted to do as much as I could without hurting myself," Riddle said about practicing. "I ran every morning."
Riddle dropped two decisions Saturday, one to Mill Valley's undefeated senior, Eric Pingleton (37-0), and the other in the consolation final to Atchison's Jake Weishaar (35-2). With the fourth-place finish at the Royal Valley regional, Riddle drew Santa Fe Trail's Jason Matthews, who is 32-4. Riddle, 14-5, defeated a Trail wrestler when the team's met in a December dual, but that was against Travis Kurtz.
The THS senior clearly has wrestled in fewer matches this year than any other state qualifier, but, Riddle said, neither that nor first-time state jitters will phase him.
Riddle expects to be comfortable with the state scene after competing last summer in the Junior Cadet National Greco Roman and Free Style Championships.
"It's going to be tough, but I'm not nervous like others might be," Riddle said.
Overall, Tonganoxie placed seventh with 100, the same spot he held in last year's Basehor-Linwoood regional. Last season, the Chieftains mustered 79 points.
This season, THS will take six wrestlers to state, compared to four last year. Ross Starcher, Garrett Palmer, Matt Weyer, James Hartshorn and Andrew Miller also qualified for the state tournament, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday in Wichita's Kansas Coliseum.
Tonganoxie's regional resumed Saturday with the Chieftains in an encouraging second place, but that quickly turned. Kaw Valley League champions Hartshorn and Miller suddenly were wrestling to avoid elimination, and Starcher was the only Chieftain left in the winners bracket.
"It was a tough first round Saturday," said assistant coach Scott Underwood.
Tonganoxie, though, gained more wins in the backside bracket as the day progressed. The Chieftains will take the most wrestlers to Wichita since 2001 when they also qualified six.
Lansing won the tournament with 155 points, while host Royal Valley took second with 145. Marysville (144), Holton (131) and Mill Valley (110) rounded out the top five. Basehor-Linwood squeaked ahead of Tonganoxie in sixth with 105. The Bobcats likely would have had more points, but KVL champ Cody Bell, who was ranked No. 1 in the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association poll, didn't make weight and could not compete.
Teammate Brandon Buck picked up the slack. The senior defeated previously unbeaten Jesse Strawn of Holton in overtime in the 152-pound division finals. Buck, 32-3 will take on Labette County's Kyle Johnston (31-6) in Friday's opening round. Strawn, who is a freshman, will face El Dorado senior Brad Demo (31-7).
Undefeated De Soto freshman Neil Erisman (30-0) also advanced from Royal Valley and will wrestle Columbus sophomore Brian Simpson (23-14) Friday.
The state tournament will have two sessions each day, with both morning sessions beginning at 9 a.m. Friday's second session begins at 6:30, while Saturday's evening session will include the parade of champions at 6:10 p.m. and the championship finals at 6:30 p.m.
Here are profiles of Tonganoxie's remaining state qualifiers:
The 135-pounder took second at Saturday's regional after finishing in fourth a year before. This will be Starcher's second appearance at state in as many tries. The sophomore had an early exit in last year's tournament in the 112-pound class.
Starcher is eager for a longer stay in the bracket this year.
"I think I should do pretty well this year," Starcher said. "Better than last year hopefully."
Starcher lost a heartbreaker in the regional finals to Wamego's Scott Pittenger, who enters the state tourney at 25-3. Starcher, 31-6, will wrestle Scott City's Rees McKinney, a 26-4 sophomore.
Starcher is now one tournament up on his brother, Chad. After reaching state as a freshman, Chad Starcher was eliminated in regionals last year and ended this season early because of a nagging hip injury.
Palmer set Tonganoxie's takedown record and qualified for his first state tournament all in one year.
And it all happened after posting a losing record last season. Palmer was 2-9 last year, but made the state field Saturday with a fourth-place regional finish. The sophomore lost a 21-8 decision to Holton's Fred Bowser (23-9) in the consolation finals. At 27-14, Palmer wrestles Friday against Anderson County's Tyson Adams, the Santa Fe Trail regional champion who owns a 28-5 record. Palmer's bracket also has two undefeated grapplers -- senior Earl Jones from Coffeyville (33-0) and Pratt's Daniel Prater (28-0). Jones, who has one leg, won last year's 125-pound class.
For Palmer, a chance at state is all he needs.
"It's feeling great," the sophomore said. "I wish I could have done better, but I was where I needed to be."
Two Weyers in two years.
Last season, Pat Weyer advanced to the state field as a senior. This year, younger brother Matt, a junior, will get his shot at the state field in the 171-pound division. Matt Weyer takes a 22-11 record to state.
Having an older sibling with state experience gave Weyer enough motivation at regionals.
"Just thinking that he went and I didn't made me know I had to this year," Weyer said.
The junior placed third at Royal Valley, defeating Atchison's Josh Erpelding, 3-1, for the bronze.
Pratt senior Andrew Riner and his 17-3 record will greet Weyer in the opening round at state.
Andrew Miller is deceptive. The senior wrestles in the heavyweight bracket, but Miller usually is the smallest wrestler in the weight class.
But that's fine by the senior, who said he uses his size and quickness to his advantage.
And he reiterates a slogan found on THS wrestling T-shirts to describe his form of wrestling.
"In-your-face style," Miller said after taking third at Royal Valley.
Miller's approach has helped him to quick wins recently. At the KVL meet the previous week, the senior registered a championship pin in the match's opening seconds.
On Saturday, he won with a pin in 1:48.
When state begins Friday, Miller, 29-10, will open with Colby's Brent Deibert, a 15-3 senior who was the runner-up in the Goodland regional Saturday. Miller also follows in his brother's wrestling shoes. Tony Miller advanced to state in 2001.
Tonganoxie's top state wrestler last season, James Hartshorn could hold that distinction again this season.
The senior enters state as the No. 3 wrestler from the Royal Valley regional after going 2-2 at last year's state meet.
Hartshorn (30-6) finished off Perry-Lecompton's Pat Ketter, 9-2, Saturday for a bronze medal.
Going into the consolation final, the top four wrestlers already know they're headed to state. That doesn't allow any letdown in that final consolation match, though, according to Hartshorn.
"If you lose you wrestle with the first-place seed," Hartshorn said about the state bracket. "With third I wrestle the No. 2 seed.
Hartshorn's draw for the first round looks pretty good, as the senior faces Santa Fe Trail senior Dustin DeWitt (16-7).
Hartshorn defeated DeWitt in two meetings this season, but that third win could be difficult -- especially in Wichita.
"It's a whole different game at state," Hartshorn said.