Last season, the Manhattan High wrestling team won its second state title under coach Robert Gonzales.
From that team, nine seniors departed, seven of which played key roles in the title run. With that many holes to fill in a 14-spot lineup, it will be difficult to reload and keep winning at the highest level.
Gonzales thinks this team can do it.
“Going into this season, the transition for us is difficult, from the standpoint that we lost nine seniors, and seven of them went to the state tournament, placing,” he said. “That said, I like our team that we have this year, and we have nine seniors, but they don’t have a lot of mat experience.”
Getting those new wrestlers some mat time will be pivotal if the Indians hope to continue challenging for league, regional and state titles this year. But the cupboard’s not empty, either.
“We’re not starting over,” he said. “I’d like to think that we’re just putting pieces into the spots that are vacant. We have 14 weight classes as a team and we’re trying to get kids into the right areas.”
Manhattan returns state runner-up at 113 pounds Jase Stone, as well as 145-pounder Davis Matthews who took fourth at state a year ago. Stone won 38 matches last season, with Matthews right behind at 37. Both will be leaders on this team as seniors.
“For us, it starts with Jase Stone at 113 pounds,” he said. “He’s featured on the trade magazine ‘Kansas Mat Preview’, he’s on the cover. I refer to covers of those magazines as jinxes - Collin Klein comes to mind. Well even though Jase is no Collin Klein, last year Ty Suggs was on the cover and we were fortunate to have him win state, so hopefully it’s a good omen.
“Davis was fourth in the state tournament last year and finished 37-13. Anytime you can wrestle and get 30 wins in a high school season, that’s amazing. Those are the two seniors that have state tournament experience, being in a battle.”
Other notable seniors will be Dallas Vesta at 126, Michael Forshee at 160 and CJ Mooreman-Meador at 220.
Vesta comes from a long line of MHS High wrestlers, with his two brothers wrestling in college. The senior went 1-2 at last year’s state tournament.
Forshee returns at 160 after battling injury last season. Gonzales is counting on him to wrestle at a high level after splitting time last year because of such good competition at the surrounding weight classes.
“He and Austin Chauncey both split time last year, it was competitive at that weight class,” he said. “Those two youngsters, there was no place for them to go. It kind of worked out that both kids got some mat time, but unfortunate for Michael because he was having a high rate of success, 13-3 at the varsity level, but then got hurt.”
Mooreman-Meador is currently wrestling at the 220 weight class, but is undersized.
“He’s our big boy at 220,” Gonzales said. “He was 25-15. He’s undersized at that weight class, he only weighs 208 pounds, so we’ll have to help him with that or have him lose some weight.”
Gonzales said this year’s team doesn’t pay to much attention to the successes of last season.
“We don’t talk about last year’s state title,” he said. “We didn’t even get patches. The kids are happy and excited about that stuff, but we’re just excited about the opportunity to wrestle this coming weekend.”
The MHS wrestling team opens its season Saturday with a tough early tourney at Gardner-Edgerton. With five top-level out-of-state teams joining a strong field of Kansas teams, it’s considered by some to be the toughest one-day tournament in Kansas this year.