As tough a schedule as Manhattan High has wrestled, and as many tough weekend tournaments they’ve competed in this season, head coach Robert Gonzales knows this is the one that counts.
The Manhattan wrestling team is sending 12 athletes to the Class 6A state tournament this weekend at Wichita’s Hartman Arena to face off against some of the best wrestlers the state of Kansas has to offer.
Now is the time to wrestle at the highest level.
“This is the tournament that is talked about — young people in our building, adults, everyone will ask you how you did at state,” Gonzales said. “They never ask how you did at Blue Valley, or how you did at the Abilene tournament. And that’s no offense to those great tournaments, it’s just that everyone knows only the best get to go and only the best qualify.”
Amongst family and friends Wednesday night, Manhattan High’s 12 state-qualifying wrestlers were each introduced and celebrated during the program’s annual state sendoff, which also included a letter to the team from Kian Clemens’ father, John Clemens, who is stationed overseas in Afghanistan and will be watching the team compete from afar.
Gonzales said the team has worked hard enough to win a title, though it depends how things go in the opening two rounds.
“Our goal is to win it,” he said. “I’ve told them the last six weeks that we have worked hard to win this thing, and I think we can put ourselves in position. Everything depends on the first two rounds and where we’re at going in to round three. And even if something doesn’t go right, even if we have to overcome some adversity, we’ll be OK.”
With 12 kids making the trip, Manhattan has a healthy mix of underdogs and favorites. Gonzales said everybody needs to take it one match at a time.
“Our top kids, — everybody’s going to give them their best shot, and it’s nothing that we haven’t encountered all year,” he said. “And our threes and fours that have to battle ones and twos, they’ve got to wrestle their best matches of the year.
For Clemens, preparing for the state meet is similar to any other weekend tournament.
“It’s just another big tournament, and we’ve been to a couple big ones this year,” he said. “It’s the same people, they all qualified through regionals, they’re all going to be tough, but just take it one match at a time and get it done.”
Clemens and teammate Austin Chauncey have both been on a tear lately. Both are at the top of the 6A rankings for their weight classes. So is it state title or bust?
“We’re all out there going hard to compete,” Clemens said. “That’s what you want it to be, but I guess we’ll see on Saturday around 4 o’clock.”
For Chauncey, minimizing the pressure of being the favorite is half the battle.
“There’s a lot of pressure — some high expectations,” Chauncey said. “You just wrestle like it’s any other match, I guess. Try and avoid it.”
Chauncey said the team is working to fix small technical things this week as they tune up for the biggest tournament of the year.
“You’re just fixing the little things,” he said. “Instead of having two or three hour practices, it comes down to 90-minute workouts and perfect everything you can.”
While Gonzales would love a team full of top-ranked wrestlers, he knows that’s not what it takes to win a team championship.
“With 12 kids, what’s the formula for winning a state title?” he said. “Win the close matches, get five on the finals and get four or five to place on the backside. You don’t have to have superstars, or even great athletes, you just have to have kids win the close matches.”
Manhattan made its way down to Wichita this afternoon, with a scheduled practice at Wichita Heights High School before Friday’s 7 a.m. weigh-in. Gates open to the general public at 8 a.m., with the first round of matches beginning at 10 a.m.
Saturday’s schedule begins with 9 a.m. consolation matches, with gates opening at 7 a.m.