VALLEY CENTER—The Valley Center High School wrestling team will enter this weekend’s Class 5A regional with a 32-2 dual record, which tied the school record.
The Hornets’ longtime coach, Brian Shelton, believes the 2012-13 team is special.
The squad includes seven seniors who spent time as junior varsity wrestlers at one point. Zac Sander was a three-year JV wrestler who is now ranked No. 2 at 285 pounds in Class 5A, according to the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. His record is 38-3.
The other six seniors are Danny Turkali (126 pounds), Cameron VanDusen (145), Josh Ortiz (152), Tony Bluml (160), Chad Blair (182) and Luke Weldon (220).
Blair, who placed third at state last year, is ranked No. 4 with a 39-2 record. Weldon, who took fifth at state, is the No. 3-ranked wrestler in his weight class with a 40-1 mark. The boys are practice partners with older brothers who excelled in the Hornet wrestling program.
Blair’s brother, Cade, was a three-time state champion for Valley Center who now serves as an assistant coach. Weldon’s brother, Jake, was a sixth-place state finisher at 285 pounds in 2011.
Shelton said he thought Chad Blair was mentally stronger this year and better prepared for the pressure of postseason competition. The coach pointed out that Blair was a match away from placing at state as a sophomore and then earned third last year.
“If he continues that improvement, good things are in his future,” said Shelton.
Blair has moved down from 195 pounds while Luke Weldon moved up from 182.
“I think he actually has a style that is perfect for 220,” Shelton said of Weldon. “He can wear kids down. He wrestles like a smaller wrestler, which I think gives big guys trouble.
“He doesn’t get too high and doesn’t get too low,” Shelton continued. “ … He’s pretty level-headed. And I’ve never seen him make the same mistake twice.”
The coach described Ortiz, ranked fifth with a 25-5 record, as “the rock” of the team. After missing a couple of 2013 competitions due to injury, Ortiz is back at 100 percent, said Shelton.
“He’s improved from Day 1, and if there was ever an example you’d want your young kids to follow and see his work ethic on a day-to-day basis, he’d be the example to follow,” Shelton added. “He’s a silent leader. He’s not a rah-rah guy. Just his daily grind and that work ethic is something to be admired.”
Valley Center is ranked No. 5 in 5A. The Hornets will travel to Great Bend for their Saturday, Feb. 16, regional. After nine of the 14 wrestlers missed some time on the mat this season due to injuries, everyone is healthy heading into Saturday’s tournament.
“If they work as hard on Saturday at the regional tournament as they’ve been working at practice,” said Shelton, “our chances are very good and we can walk away having no regrets.”