Strong returning nucleus has wrestlers looking to next year
Controversy just seems to follow Neil Erisman around when he makes his way to the Kansas 4A State Wrestling Tournament in Wichita.
The sophomore wrestler saw his second-straight attempt at a state championship end when state officials stuck him with a caution, which was thought to go against his opponent Justin Wiscombe of Santa Fe Trail.
Had the original call stood, Wiscombe would have been given his third caution of the match, and Erisman would have been awarded a point and the win. Instead, Erisman lost the match in double overtime.
"It's just as well," De Soto wrestling coach Matt Jones said. "I don't think Neil would have wanted to win the match that way anyway. You want to win a match of that magnitude on the mat."
Instead of standing atop the award stand, Erisman took third at the meet. Last year, he finished second after a late stalling call sent his match into overtime. He then lost to Colby's Eric Luedke 3-1 on a takedown.
His finish was one of the highlights in a season of success for De Soto.
The Wildcats started the season with 22 wrestlers combined on the varsity and junior varsity teams. Jones had 19 grapplers on his team when the season ended.
"This group of wrestlers was hardworking and fun to be around regardless of how they did on the mat," Jones said.
In all, seven wrestlers on the varsity team finished with .500 records or better this season, and only one of them donned a Wildcat uniform for the last time. That lone wrestler was Blake Lindbloom, who led by example when he wrestled with an injured shoulder.
Erisman, who was injured in a tournament in Oklahoma by probably the top wrestler in a talent-laden state, and Trevor Leahy were the only other wrestlers to miss time because of injury or illness.
Jones credits a great Wildcat work ethic for avoiding injury.
"Because we are so thin, we can't afford to go live as often as we would like to," the coach said. "Luckily, the kids come into the season in good shape and ready to go. They're all pretty good athletes already and play other sports."
De Soto wrestlers had a combined individual record of 187-196. Seven juniors dotted the varsity roster this season, giving Jones a reason to smile heading into next season.
One of the goals going into the season was for the team to win a team trophy at a tournament. The Wildcats saw the Burlington Wrestling Invitational as its best opportunity.
"We felt confident going into that meet," Jones recalled. "And knowing that winning a team trophy was a goal, I think that set the guys up to be successful."
The Wildcats came through by placing eight De Soto grapplers in the top six of their individual weight classes and grabbed a second-place team finish with 159 points. Coffeyville was the top team that day with 191.5 points.
Leahy (119), Erisman (152) and Leif Goleman (171) all finished first at the meet. Adam Faircloth (130) came in second and Brandon Hurt (112) was a third-place winner for the Wildcats.
De Soto compiled a 6-4 record in duals this past season. Two of the losses came when the Wildcats wrestled short-handed against Sumner Academy and Mill Valley. In the dual against the Jaguars, De Soto won seven of the 11 matches wrestled.
The Wildcats also demonstrated their explosiveness when they routed Bishop Ward 63-16 in a dual. De Soto went 8-2 in that win.
A true measure of team strength was provided in the last three meets of the year as Wildcats took part in the Kaw Valley League Meet, regionals and state on successive February weekends.
De Soto finished in the middle of the pack at the conference meet in Bonner Springs. The Wildcats had seven wrestlers place in the top four in their weight classes.
Erisman and Goleman were individual champions, while Alex Mercer started to show signs of what he could do at the end of the year with his second-place finish.
The Wildcats then finished in the middle of the pack at the 4A regional in Hiawatha by sending five grapplers to the state meet.
Besides Erisman's controversial finish at state, Hurt, Faircloth, Goleman and Mercer (215) all qualified and went 0-2 in Wichita.
Here are De Soto wrestler's indiviual records: 103 -- Billy Self, 4-18; 112 -- Brandon Hurt, 18-17; 119 -- Trevor Leahy, 25-12; 125 -- Jacob Rupe, 6-22; 130 -- Adam Faircloth, 22-17; 135 -- open; 140 -- Aaron Hansen, 1-14; 145 -- Gene Cosby, 0-16; 152 -- Neil Erisman, 27-2; 160 -- Casey Johnson, 13-20; 171 -- Leif Goleman, 32-9; 189 -- Matt Below, 5-19; 215 -- Alex Mercer, 20-16; 275 -- Blake Lindbloom, 14-14.