After last season’s Manhattan High wrestling team sent 11 athletes to the state tournament and brought home six medals, this year’s team will be looking to reload with an influx of youth and new talent.
As the Indians prepare for Saturday’s season-opening trip to the 34th annual Gardner-Edgerton Invitational, which head coach Robert Gonzales dubbed the toughest one-day tournament in the state of Kansas, kids at five different weight classes will get ready to make their varsity debut.
Gonzales said he will be leaning on his five seniors to provide leadership, including state placers in Kian Clemens at 132, Austin Chauncey at 160 and Josh Mullin at 170.
“(Clemens) always wrestled everybody’s best kid last year, and he came back and placed third at the state tournament,” Gonzales said. “He’s a two-time national-team qualifier to Fargo and he has a lot of mat time. He’ll wrestle in college somewhere, he’s pretty tough and getting a lot of looks.”
Chauncey, who Gonzales called the most improved wrestler a season ago, will also be looking to improve on a third-place state finish as he ponders a decision on where to attend college.
“Austin’s got tremendous talent and scored a 32 on his ACT,” Gonzales said. “So there are a lot of Division IIs that have expressed interest, and a lot of Division Is that are high-academic that probably don’t offer athletic scholarships.”
In Mullin, Gonzales has a tough-minded, three-sport athlete who dealt with a frustrating face injury that required him to where a mask much of last season.
“He’s got tremendous talent, taking fifth a year ago,” Gonzales said. “I know he can play baseball in college, but he’s caught the attention of some college wrestling coaches. A lot of Division II and Division III and NAIA schools have expressed interest. We just have to keep him healthy, we can’t afford injuries with him because he’s a valuable leader for us.”
Rounding out the seniors making Saturday’s trip are Erich Sanchez at 145 and Michael Leeper at 152. Sanchez was hurt most of last year after a good start at the Gardner-Edgerton tournament, while Leeper made it to state but a tough draw kept him off the medal stand.
“(Leeper) lost to (Saul) Ortiz, the state runner-up last year, in a close, bloodied-forehead match,” Gonzales said. “We win that match, we’re in the semis, but Ortiz wins it and takes second.
“Erich wrestled well at Gardner-Edgerton last year, but it affected him. He couldn’t keep his weight at 132, so this year he’s going up to 145 and he’s wrestled all spring and summer and went to a lot of camps and he’s another senior that’ll probably wrestle in college.”
Past the senior class, Gonzales is welcoming a group of talented freshmen to the mat, calling on Joe Braun (106), Mason Wallace (120) and Devin Norris (126) to open on varsity this weekend.
“They’re pretty good,” Gonzales said of his freshmen class. “They’re all club kids and they’ve had great background and history. One is even ranked and hasn’t even wrestled a high school match yet.”
Wallace is ranked No. 3 in Class 6A after winning state titles in the club season the last two years.
“He’s just a very good wrestler and very talented,” Gonzales said of Wallace. “And the nice thing about it is he’s low key about it. Sometimes when you have that star power, it can affect you, but he’s just a typical freshman — he makes freshman mistakes.”
In the case of Braun, Gonzales noted the strength of his young athlete.
“He’s a big, strapping freshman,” Gonzales said. “You’ll see him on the mat next week for our home tournament, you’ll think he’s huge. He’s a big, strong kid and he’s got a good background.”
For Norris, following in the footsteps of his brother, Dane, would be a good thing for the Indians.
“His brother was a two-time state champion here for us, Dane,” Gonzales said. “Devon is a little bit taller than Dane was, and he’s lanky, but he’s a natural fit at 126. He had great coaches, he and Mason and Joe had great coaches with the Optimist Kids Wrestling program.
“Those three, even though they’re freshmen, they have a little seasoning to them. It’s not something where I’m worried about whether they’ll compete or work hard.”
Juniors Kendrick Rivera (138) and Anthony Renteria (195) will make their varsity debuts Saturday, while junior Darrion Taylor (113) and sophomore Florian Theisen (285) bring some varsity experience from last season.
Manhattan will be open at 182 and 220 this weekend, with James Kordyak expected to fill the 182 slot and one of a couple different freshmen likely to take the 220 spot.
Besides teaching so many varsity newcomers, another challenge for Gonzales is to acclimate to a new set of assistant coaches. Three of his former assistants in Chad Lindsley, Tim McCarthy and Devin Schwartz all took new jobs in Oklahoma over the offseason, leaving open spots for new coaches.
“I lose those guys, which I’m happy for, it’s great, but the new guys I got are pretty green,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think we have everything in yet, as far as our offense and defense. On our feet I’m pretty comfortable in our neutral position. Takedowns I think we’ll be OK. We have good kids here, but it’s just a little bit different.”
Saturday’s matches will be broadcast live on Takedown Radio, and the finals will be webcast online at www.810varsity.com.