Coming into this year’s Centennial League wrestling meet at Manhattan High, most everyone in attendance knew it was going to end in a battle between the two state-ranked heavyweights, as the hometown Manhattan Indians faced off against the Junction City Blue Jays.
While Manhattan led for part of the day, the depth of the Blue Jays came through in the finals, with the Indians taking second place as all the teams prepare for the postseason run coming in two weeks.
“They’re No. 2 in the state, and they’re not No. 2 for no reason,” Manhattan head coach Robert Gonzales. “Junction City is ranked for a reason. They do a great job and have tremendous leaders and coaches. They’ve won it the last two years in a row, and we’re knocking. We’re close.”
Once the teams got into the medal rounds, Manhattan did its best to keep pace with the Blue Jays, especially in the lower and middle weights, finishing no worse than third from weights 106 through 160. But the Indians had just one wrestler, Eldon Picou at 285, finish in the top four in the final five weight classes to finish second to the Blue Jays by 17 points.
Senior Austin Chauncey, who finished in first place at 160, said the Indians were close against the Blue Jays but need to be better in head-to-head matches against their rivals.
“Against Junction City, we just need to win some of the head-to-head matches,” Chauncey said. “Darrion (Taylor) had a good match, and Kendrick (Rivera) had a close match. If we get those wins, that takes points from them and gives them to us.”
Senior Kian Clemens, who finished first at 132, said the team will get its chances against the Blue Jays in the coming weeks.
“Always our team goal is to come out No. 1,” Clemens said. “We didn’t have most of our scorers on the backside that we normally do at the big tournaments, and enough time to come back through and gain those points. But in these next two, we’ll have that time and people will step up when it’s important.”
The Indians finished the day strong, winning nine of its 10 final-round matches.
Mason Wallace was the first Manhattan wrestler to wrestle in the championship round, taking a major decision over Seaman’s Jaelynn Gay, 12-2, to finish in first. Wallace, a freshman, won the league award for newcomer of the year, voted by the coaches.
Fellow freshman Devin Norris followed suit at 126, defeating Shawnee Heights’ Andrew Miller 8-0 in a major decision to take the first-place medal.
“We had two freshmen as league champions,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been here nine years, and in my tenure, I don’t think we’ve ever had one. We’ve had some sophomore league champions, but to have two, and to have one be voted as newcomer of the year, that’s special.”
Clemens, at 132, made it three in a row for Manhattan with a pin of Washburn Rural’s Josh Garrett in 2:54 to take first place.
At 160, Chauncey was the final Indian to take first place with a 3-0 decision over Seaman’s Sam Mizell to finish 3-0 on the day.
At 152, Michael Leeper found himself in the championship match against a familiar foe in Junction City’s Andrew Millsap, losing a 7-4 decision to take second place and cap a 2-1 day.
In the lower weights, Joe Braun (106) took third place with a 9-1 major decision over Seaman’s Dawson Podlena to cap a 1-1 day. At 113, Darrion Taylor also took third place, getting a major decision over Washburn Rural’s Nick Huffman to also finish 1-1. At 138, Kendrick Rivera took third with a major decision over Washburn Rural’s Jarad Cypret, 15-5, to finish 2-1 on the day.
Erick Sanchez, at 145, finished in third place with a 10-1 major decision over Highland Park’s Elijah Miller to cap a 3-1 day. Picou wrapped up the day with a pin over Emporia’s Hayden Perry in 1:25, after losing to Perry in the opening round in a 5-2 decision. Picou’s win gave Manhattan five third-place medalists on the day.
Gonzales was named Centennial League coach of the year by his peers after replacing nine seniors from last year’s team.
In the upper weights, Manhattan’s youth shown through, with Kurtis Rich, Anthony Renteria and Akira Arensa all finishing outside the medal rounds while Junction City padded its lead. Combined with Josh Mullin’s injury, the Indians saw a tough ending to their day.
“We lost Mullin with an injury,” Gonzales said. “That hurt — he’s big-time points and a returning state placer. Hopefully we’ll get him back in time for regionals.”
MHS wrestles a double-dual with Seaman and Mill Valley on Wednesday before taking eight days to prep for regionals on Feb. 22.