Fielding full team encourages Cat wrestlers
De Soto struggles in high-caliber dual, set for challenging weekend tourney
It was a bad day for a team. The De Soto wrestling squad lost to Santa Fe Trail in a Thursday dual 68-6, the Cats only points coming via a forfeit.
It was a good day for a program, however.
De Soto struggled mightily against one of the top ranked Class 4A wrestling teams in the state, but only a match-day illness kept the Cats from fielding a full team for the first time in years.
"It's difficult to get good guys and young guys to come out, and I thought it would take two years or longer to get enough kids out to spread them out," De Soto coach Shannon Sawner said. "I'm happy that we're a little ahead on the recruiting. I really thought it would take three year to get enough kids on the team."
Sending a nearly full roster helped De Soto to its only match win against the No. 5 Chargers as Kristy Self won via forfeit in the 103-pound division.
Every other Cat was pinned.
"They're still making some freshmen mistakes," Sawner said. "If it wasn't for those, we might have had a couple of wins in there. Our good young guys are matching against guys that are ranked in the state, so you're going to take some lumps when that happens."
Thursday's lesson was that it takes more than showing up to build a winning wrestling program.
The lesson from Saturday's Shawnee Heights junior varsity tournament is that if these same athletes keep showing up, they could be on the right track.
Traveling to Shawnee Heights with many of the same wrestlers that competed at Santa Fe Trail, De Soto finished fifth in a 14-team field.
"They are understanding that they're young and if they stick it out another year or two, they'll see success," Sawner said. "This is a pretty smart crew and most of them understand that."
In both the competition against the elite and the junior varsity, Sawner said he's seeing the progress the team needs.
Demetrius Hall took first place at Shawnee Heights wrestling at 135 pounds, and Sawner said Sammy Siebolt at 125 pounds and Brandon Vukas at 135 and 140 both also wrestled well.
"Sammy will be fine. He's been in a couple tough weight classes and having that year off set him back. It's starting to come on," Sawner said. "Brandon has done well. His varsity record doesn't show it, but he went into the third period with a two-time state placer from Santa Fe Trail."
The squad also field a nearly full team for a freshman meet Dec. 5 in Lawrence. It's a team filled with rookies, Sawner said, and every experience counts.
There was plenty to be had at the meet.
Alex Hefner, Corey Lamar, Vukas, Donnie Parr and Derek Smith all went 3-0. Hall, Sam Price and Caleb Adkins only lost one match each.
"Even if the matches we aren't winning, they're doing things we've worked on in practice," Sawner said. "It's just a matter of time. It's a delicate balance when we try to make them understand that and also feed them into some varsity tournaments."
Many of the team's best will have an opportunity to face off against more top area talent Friday and Saturday in one monster of a tournament. De Soto will travel to Blue Valley High School for the Johnson County Classic.
The Cats haven't had much of a presence at the giant tournament in recent years. Neil Erisman won the 171-pound division in 2005, but he was the only Wildcat to participate that year and illness kept a small group of Cats from wrestling in the tournament last year.
"It'll be a tough tournament. I'm going to take a pretty good group to that," Sawner said. "I'm going to have to pick and choose a little bit -- I don't know if I'm going to take everybody. I'll have to make some decisions on who I think is more ready or more mentally ready."
Regardless of the outcome there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the two-day tournament. In addition to the top-notch competition, just having to wrestle two days in a row could prove important.
"Our regional tournament and the state tournaments are two day tournaments, so it's important to expose some kids to that," Sawner said. "It's a grind to wrestle Friday, go home and get back up ready to wrestle two days in a row. There's a lot of mental things and physical things you have to do deal with.
"I'll take a couple of kids and they may struggle a little, but it's important to get them into that because they haven't ever done it before. It takes them some practice to realize 'I have to wrestle all day Friday, maintain my weight and go home and sleep, get up early and compete the next day.'"