Before each of his matches, Easton Taylor has a very specific routine.
After slapping the hands of his coaches, Taylor heads toward the far edge of the mat. When called to center circle, Taylor flips forward in a somersault, briefly touching his back to the mat before popping up in perfect position to shake his opponent’s hand.
More often than not, it’s the only time Taylor’s back touches the mat for the entire match.
Taylor also has a pretty specific post-match routine. Usually, it involves jogging off the mat while his opponent lays on the ground in disbelief. Taylor then is confronted by a teammate bearing Manhattan’s “pin chain,” which functions similarly to Miami football’s turnover chain.
Saturday was no different, as Taylor defeated all three of his opponents by fall to help Manhattan to a 2-1 record in its home quad tournament against Paola, Smith Center and Shawnee Heights.
Taylor now is wrestling at 132 pounds, up from the 120-pound weight class he wrestled in last year. So far, the move up has been beneficial, as he is 7-0 on the year with all of his wins by fall or technical fall.
“Not cutting the weight is a lot better,” Taylor said. “It’s helping me get my technique a little better since I’m not focused on cutting weight.”
Taylor was far from the only Manhattan wrestler to have a good day in Manhattan’s east campus gym. Along with Taylor, Damian Ilalio (285 pounds) and Devin Siebert (152 pounds) also won all three of their matches by fall.
Tucker Brunner (138 pounds) and Blaisen Bammes (145 pounds) also went undefeated in their weight classes.
However, despite the success of those wrestlers, Manhattan still fell short of its goal on Saturday to go undefeated and win the tournament.
While MHS made easy work of both Paola and Smith Center, winning its duals 54-27 in both, the Indians faced a tough test against Shawnee Heights.
The Indians built a commanding lead through their light to middleweight classes. The wins included narrow decisions for Brunner and Bammes, both of whom pulled off last-second scores that proved pivotal.
However, Shawnee Heights rattled off three wins in a row as the dual went into its heavier classes, as the Thunderbirds pulled of wins by fall in the 182- and 195-pound weight classes before winning by forfeit at 220 pounds as Manhattan was unable to field a wrestler at that weight.
While Ilalio ended Manhattan’s slide with a quick win by fall, MHS only led by eight points heading into the final two matches. Both matches, at 106 and 113 pounds, were not favorable matchups for the Indians.
Shawnee Heights was able to win both matches, one by fall and another by technical fall, to capture the match 39-36.
“It’s hard when you’re used to wrestling schools that wrestle single leg, double leg and regular wrestling moves, and then you have to prepare for a team (like Shawnee Heights),” head coach Robert Gonzales said. “It’s like everybody does the spread offense in football, and then they come in and run the wishbone. So we didn’t match up well.”
Still, the day was encouraging for Gonzales and his team. Manhattan (5-2) is getting closer to where its head coach wants the team to be following an offseason in which the team’s typical training was made almost impossible due to the coronavirus.
“We have to finish out technique and our fundamentals and have to believe in our concept,” Gonzales said. “Is it better than a week ago? Yeah, we’ve made strides from Week 1 to Week 2. ... I think we’ll see some tremendous growth and progress in us.”
Manhattan next will take the mats on Wednesday in a quadrangular against Gardner-Edgerton, Olathe North and Lawrence at Gardner-Edgerton. The Indians then will squeeze in one more triangular against Kapuan Mt. Carmel and Goddard before the winter moratorium begins.
“If we can go into Christmas break with some positives against more good schools, then we get that three-week period off, so it’ll give kids time to heal up,” Gonzales said. “Maybe some of the (injuries) aren’t nagging. I really think we can get to where we want to get by the time we get to league in the middle of January.”
1. Shawnee Heights (3-0) 2. Manhattan (2-1) 3. Paola (1-2) 4. Smith Center (0-3)
Manhattan individual results
Charles Fitzgerald, 106: Win over Paola by forfeit, win over Smith Center by forfeit, loss by fall to Shawnee Heights (0:35)
Jerek McClellen, 113: Win by fall over Paola (1:03), win over Smith Center by forfeit, loss by 15-0 technical fall to Shawnee Heights
Jantzen Borge, 120: Loss by fall against Paola (3:07), win over Smith Center by forfeit, loss by fall against Shawnee Heights (0:21)
Jamel Agnew, 126: Loss by fall against Paola (4:00), loss by fall against Smith Center (1:08), win by fall over Shawnee Heights (2:54)
Easton Taylor, 132: Win by fall over Paola (3:57), win by fall over Smith Center (0:33), win by fall over Shawnee Heights (1:14)
Tucker Brunner, 138: Win by fall over Paola (1:54), win by fall over Smith Center (3:10), win by 3-1 decision over Shawnee Heights
Blaisen Bammes, 145: Win by fall over Paola (1:10), win by fall over Smith Center (1:59), win by sudden victory over Shawnee Heights
Devin Siebert, 152: Win by fall over Paola (0:30), win by fall over Smith Center (1:10), win by fall over Shawnee Heights (2:18)
Saben Williams, 160: Loss by 5-3 decision to Paola, loss by 12-9 decision to Smith Center, loss by 16-5 major decision to Shawnee Heights
Jaxon Vikander, 170: Loss by fall against Paola (2:48), win by fall over Smith Center (0:59), win by fall over Shawnee Heights (3:25)
Jeramiah Eustaquio, 182: Win by fall over Paola (1:04), loss by fall to Smith Center (1:58), loss by fall to Shawnee Heights (1:08)
Clayton Frehn, 195: Win over Paola by forfeit, loss by fall to Smith Center (5:00), loss by fall to Shawnee Heights (0:53)
Damian Ilalio, 285: Win by fall over Paola (0:35), win by fall over Smith Center (1:00), win by fall over Shawnee Heights (0:23)