Wrestlers starting to turn the corner
Training a group of young wrestlers is done in steps, De Soto coach Matt Jones said.
For the first six weeks of the season, progress was slow and at times could be maddening. Wins were hard to come by for the squad, which features 11 freshmen and sophomores.
The two-week winter break, typically a time to rest and rehab wrestlers, was transformed into a basic skills boot camp.
And now, after the team has overcome its winter break hangover, Jones said it's time for a new step.
"We have a whole week until we have a tournament, so we're going to concentrate on getting in shape," Jones said. "Next week, we call it our second phase. We cut down practice a little bit, and we start working on live wrestling for the end of the season."
The team is preparing for phase two, but many of the first-time wrestlers are already stepping up their performances. The early-season win drought has passed a few of the young athletes and the competition has changed.
A number of Wildcats found success in Saturday's Burlington tournament. It was no surprise when senior Neil Erisman won the 171-pound division, but Shane Heffner and Aaron Donnell both picked up wins in matches and wrestled well while Mark England won his final match and placed fifth in the 125-pound classification.
For that group, winning the rare match or taking excessive pride in a losing match well wrestled is a thing of the past, Jones said.
"Heffner and Donnell wrestled pretty well," he said. "They both had close matches that they did lose, matches that came down to the wire that could have gone either way.
"You can tell they're starting to get it. Their expectations are going up. They're really starting to get to the point where they don't like losing and they want to do better."
The progress wasn't entirely evident in the team's first trip back to the mats following the break.
De Soto on Tuesday hosted a meet for the first time this season, dueling Tonganoxie and Basehor-Linwood. The Wildcats had little luck against Tonganoxie, only Erisman and Donnell picking up wins.
They fared little better in the second match up. Although De Soto won the contest with Basehor, only Erisman won a match. The Cats scored most of their points via forfeit.
Still, Jones said he could see the learning process taking place, and even from Tuesday's performance to Saturday's, he could see progress.
He said he expects another leap as the team heads to the Bobcat Classic Friday and Saturday in Basehor.
"Compared to the last varsity tournament, they looked heads and tails better," Jones said. "They're more confident. Their matches last longer. They're able to hit some moves and they're able to defend some of their opponents moves too."
It's an entirely different world for Erisman.
Erisman breezed through both Thursday's home meet and Saturday's showdown at Burlington.
He knocked off Jeremy Raby of Center Heights in one minute, 52 seconds, Lonnie Morris of Mission Valley in 43 seconds and won the title against Ryan Mosley of Wichita Independent in 1:45.
Challenges do await De Soto's top wrestler, however. The Basehor tournament will feature some of the top talent in the state, and will even attract quality wrestlers from as far away as Iowa.
Erisman will rematch against Jed Mamie, the St. Thomas Aquinas talent he beat 8-5 in December's Johnson County Classic.
"I just have to take it one match at a time like I have been, go out there and not worry about winning and losing," Erisman said. "That's got to be the biggest thing. I need to concentrate on sticking to a game plan and on scoring."