State veterans flavor lineup
As his second season at the helm of De Soto's wrestling program approaches, Matt Jones took some time to discuss a goal of a top-10 finish at his sport's state meet.
Jones didn't talk at length about the possibility of the Wildcats crashing the party in Wichita in late February because he knows a lot has to happen before then.
"It's hard to tell now," Jones said of his team's post-season prospects. "We're not even sure where our kids are going to be wrestling weight-wise. And we're not sure where kids from around the state are going to wrestle weight-wise either."
However, it's hard to overlook the five state qualifiers De Soto returns from a team that finished tied with Basehor-Linwood for 28th place at last year's state meet with 18 points.
Although two-time state placer Neil Erisman (152) was the only Wildcat to score points at the finals last year, the return of Brandon Hurt (112), Adam Faircloth (130), Leif Goleman (171) and Alex Mercer (215) should give Jones plenty of experience and hunger with which to work. Three of those state meet returnees begin the 2004-2005 campaign ranked by the Kansas Wrestling Coach's Association preseason ratings.
Erisman, who owns the schools modern-day record for wins in a season with 33, appears to be moving up to 160 pounds this season and opens the year ranked No. 2 in the state. For him to win his first state championship, the tough and nearly unbeatable Wildcat may have to go through two-time champion Ross Taplin.
As a freshman at 145 pounds, Taplin took home the fifth-place medal. He then won at 152 pounds two years ago and 160 pounds last season.
The Abilene grappler was so impressive in running his record to 34-0 last season that Dan Fickel of Wrestling USA magazine ranked the Cowboy as the 14th best wrestler in the nation at 160 pounds at the end of the season. Taplin was the fourth-best underclassman in the rankings.
Something will have to give though when he collides with Erisman, the owner of a 60-3 career record. The Wildcat was tabbed 19th in those same rankings. Of the grapplers ranked ahead of the 2004 sophomore, and 11 of them were seniors.
Two Frontier League wrestlers are also hoping to make the road harder for Erisman when the league meet rolls around. If Erisman is to win his third conference championship in as many years, he will have to get by Gardner Edgerton's Brandon Boyd and Ken Offott of Paola.
Boyd and Offott are ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the coach's 5A rankings.
Faircloth will move up to 140 pounds beginning the season, or at least that's what the coach's association said by making him the sixth-best wrestler in that weight class.
The fourth-year team member will also have to get by a trio of seasoned veterans in Columbus' Caleb Stultz, Fort Scott's Dakota Hall, and Osawatomie's Clay Page. All three wrestlers earned medals at the state meet a year ago and take up the top three spots in 4A in that respective order.
Page will also stand in the way of Faircloth's attempt to improve on last year's third-place finish at the Kaw Valley League meet when the senior goes after a Frontier League championship.
Mercer garnered the No. 5 ranking at 215 pounds beginning his senior season and will have his share of competition on a statewide and conference level as well.
Defending 215-pound champion Tyler Thoreson of Marysville returns for his senior season and should be plenty formidable should Mercer run up against him in Wichita. But the rest of the rankings are up for grabs as the other five spots are taken by wrestlers who did not place at last season's state meet.
Defending Frontier League champion Jimmy Stewart returns to defend his championship at the second-to-heaviest weight division. Besides Mercer, Stewart will also be challenged by last year's third-place wrestler, Daniel Rose of Osawatomie, and Ottawa's Mike Espinosa.
It's not certain in which weight class Goleman and Hurt will begin their final seasons. Either way, both grapplers are capable of cracking the top six in the state.
Other wrestlers filling voids on the 2004-2005 wrestling roster are Aaron Hansen, Gene Cosby, Huston Noe, Cole Paulson, Matt Below, Bryan Roddy, Jacob Rupe and Calvin Barber. There are also a number of newcomers that Jones is preparing to begin their wrestling career at the junior varsity level.
With just 13 grapplers back from last year's varsity squad, Jones expects depth to be an issue as the Wildcats battle through the season.
Goleman nearly overtook Erisman's single-season win record when he put together a 32-win campaign a year ago. Faircloth is tied with Trevor Leahy on the school chart with 25 wins in a season.
Faircloth owns the school record with 23 reversals in a season. Goleman owns the record book in near falls with 34 in a season. He also holds the record in pins in a season with 26.
The Wildcats begin the season at 9 a.m. Saturday when they travel to Wamego for a tournament.
Last season the Wildcats finished fourth out of 10 teams after posting 112-1/2 points. As a team, the Wildcats had a 14-11 record.
Erisman and Goleman earned championship wins while Hurt and Mercer garnered second and third place, respectively. Rupe and Faircloth were fourth. The meet should also give fans a look at the first match between Erisman and Taplin.
"We'll get to see where we're at," Jones said. "If we can hang with them (other teams like Abilene, Concordia and Silver Lake) and score points we'll know we've improved. If not we'll know we have a ways to go."