It was last year at this time when the Manhattan Indian wrestling team started putting things together.
They didn’t know it at the time, but the Indians would eventually win a state title after winning the Blue Valley Northwest two-day tournament last season.
“This week’s the big Blue Valley Northwest tournament,” head coach Robert Gonzales said. “Lots of quality schools. Newton will be there, who we just saw, so we’ll see some good teams there.
“It’ll be tough. Last year we won the darn thing, and really used it as a springboard for the remainder of the season.”
After the tournament this weekend, the Indians travel to Washburn Rural for a triangular. From there, it’s just league, regionals and state, meaning this weekend’s tournament is a final tune-up of sorts for when the matches really start to count.
Manhattan will be without CJ Mooreman-Meador, most likely until regionals. He suffered a shoulder injury in Newton this past weekend. With Josh Mullin still healing from his face injury, that left the Indians shorthanded against some of the top competition from around the state. Still, Manhattan managed a seventh-place finish after taking sixth as a team last year.
“I’ve never been excited about getting seventh,” Gonzales said. “But using our placement in this as a barometer, last year, we got sixth in this tournament. So we’re right there.”
Manhattan took seventh with 123 team points, while Grand Island (Neb.) won it all with 243 points. Arkansas City took second with 178 while host-school Newton finished in third with 152.5.
Manhattan had six medalists in the tournament, with three other wrestlers finishing just outside the top eight.
Jase Stone finished in third place with a 4-1 record, losing to Wichita Northwest’s Michael Lindlar on Friday night 10-3. From there, the 113-pounder worked his way up the consolation bracket to take third.
Kian Clemens, at 120, took fifth place in Newton. He went 4-2 on the weekend, losing to two-time state champ Dante Rodriguez from Grand Island and McPherson’s Kaden Kretzer, but beating Wichita Heights’ Armond McCray.
“Kian on Saturday morning had to come back and wrestle against Armond McCray from Wichita Heights, and beat him 7-4,” Gonzales said. “That was a big win for us with regional seeding next month.”
At 126, Dallas Vesta finished in sixth place with a 3-3 record. Losing to Dustin Reed of Colby in the third round to put him in the consolation bracket. He managed to earn a berth in the fifth-place match, but fell to Newton’s Quinton Harrison.
At 145, Davis Matthews had the best individual showing in the tournament, going 4-1 and finishing in second place behind Ark City’s Cody Eastman after losing 2-1 in the finals.
Michael Leeper, at 152, took fifth in the tournament with a 4-2 record, beating Liberal’s Trenton Wilson 7-4 in the fifth-place match.
Austin Chauncey had a solid weekend at 160, going 5-1 to take third place, losing only to defending state champion Dustin Williams.
Chance Drake at 182, Mooreman-Meador at 220 and Michael Forshee at 170 all had good tournaments but needed another win to crack the medal stand.
Add in Josh Mullin, who has an 18-3 record but got drawn in to the field and went 0-2, in part because of a hockey-style mask protecting his fresh stitches, and Manhattan could have finished higher in the team standings with even just a little bit of luck.
“We’re right there, even with scoring from just those six guys,” Gonzales said. “If I do a better job and get one of those other three in scoring position, we’re right there.”
This weekend, Manhattan will be shorthanded in the upper weight classes, with Mooreman-Meador out and Drake taking a football recruiting trip. Gonzales said he doesn’t plan to take his younger big guys.
“We’ll just have to live with it,” he said. “And our younger guys just aren’t quite ready to face juniors and seniors. I just don’t like throwing guys to the wolves, especially in the upper weights.”