Eager eyes on elusive prize for Tonganoxie High wrestlers

Tonganoxie High wrestlers, from left, junior Connor Searcy, senior Korbin Riedel and freshman Grayson Sonntag won their respective 4A regional titles this past weekend, but all are focused on the supreme prize — a state title Saturday in Salina. Also eyeing a big weekend is senior Jesse Collier, who qualified for state with a fourth-place finish at regionals. Enlarge photo

February 20, 2019

Tonganoxie is taking three regional champions to the Class 4A State Wrestling Championships, each with different perspectives, but all the same goal: make history in bringing home an individual gold medal to THS.

The Chieftains have had their opportunities and oh-so-close moments through the years, including coach Ross Starcher, who was a standout himself and a runner-up when he wrestled.

Riedel was the last to almost accomplish history, as he was runner-up last year at 138.

Years come and go, as to expectations and hopes that this year will be the year. Whether it’s a curse or a wall that just can’t be knocked down, it just hasn’t happened yet.

We’re not talking a century’s old curse (insert Chicago Cubs), mind you. The team has had continued success with more and more medalists. Last year, the team took fourth at state, the program’s highest finish ever.

For Riedel, it’s all about calmness and confidence.

He’s undefeated at 38-0 and now is the first THS wrestler to be undefeated headed into the state tournament.

This year, he will try to win gold at 152.

“I’m going into state feeling confident,” Riedel said. “I’ve been in this situation before.”

This will be his fourth appearance at state. In the offseason, he wrestled more in summer tournaments and one-on-one with Starcher, which he said has prepared him for a state run this year.

And he doesn’t scout his opponents. He focuses on what he does and let’s the performance go from there.

“I like to wrestle my own match,” Riedel. “I don’t go before a match and think about this move here or this move there.”

For Searcy, state also is old hat, as the junior is making his third appearance.

But this year is different.

Searcy suffered a torn ACL and meniscus before the football season was to start. He was there with his team every day on the sidelines. He wanted to be on the field badly. With proper rehab, he was able to get into the wrestling season in January. He’s been on fire since then, having lost just twice.

“I was sitting there with the football after my injury watching them battle,” he said. “Knowing I could be out there, it hurt. Now that I can finally be out there, it’s great. It feels great to be out there winning.”

And keep improving, that’s Searcy’s goal. And with that improvement, he also expects to come home with gold at 195, even if that means he anticipates plenty of nerves to kick in this weekend.

“Nothing is different,” he said. “There’s always butterflies. It means you’ve got something to lose.

“I’ve got my mind focused on one match at a time and go out there and do what I do.”

For Sonntag, who will compete at 106, it’s a matter of new kid on the mat.

The freshman heads to state as another favorite with a 39-4 record.

And he might be a rookie, but he has the confidence of a veteran.

“It’s the same goal as it was at the beginning of the year, to win state,” he said. “I’m just ready to go.”

For Collier, this weekend is an opportunity to finish strong. He wrestled as a freshman, but didn’t go out his sophomore or junior years. Still, he found a way his senior year to go 26-19 and earn a state berth with a fourth-place finish at regionals at 160.

For Starcher, this weekend is another opportunity to add some plaques on the wall — maybe some of the gold version.

“As long as they go out and take care of business, they should be fine,” Starcher said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in any of those three’s minds (Sonntag, Searcy and Riedel) that they’re going to be in the finals.”

And with that, Saturday could be an historic day for the THS wrestling program.

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