ANDOVER, Kan.—Andover Central returns five state qualifiers from a team that finished fifth in Class 5A last spring, but this season all eyes will be on Zac Gentzler.
The senior has lost just one match in his high school career, and will be trying to become the 29th wrestler in state history to win four individual titles. Gentzler is moving up to 120 pounds from 113. (He wrestled at 103 as a freshman and a sophomore.)
“He can’t get caught up in trying to be a four-time champ,” said Saferite, who enters his second season. He needs to work on getting better every day and wrestling each and every match. He can’t look ahead and take anything for granted.”
Saferite said Gentzler, who has signed with Oklahoma State, has set himself apart with technical knowledge and an insatiable work ethic.
“Zac is not an exceptional athlete,” Saferite said. “Don't get me wrong - he is a great athlete, but he is not the fastest or the strongest person I know. He is a wrestler, and is dang good at that. He does have natural ability, but he has also worked his tail off since he was a little kid to be where he is now. He has a knack for things that are very tough to teach.”
As a team, Saferite believes the Jaguars can compete for league and regional championships. For that happen, he’ll need senior leadership from not only Gentzler but Ben Lightfoot (ranked sixth at 126) and Dalton Rodd (ranked third at 182).
Other returning state qualifiers include Paul Suhr (junior, ranked fourth at 145) and Jay Page (senior, 152). Freshman Dakota Rodd could make an immediate impact, Saferite said, and is already ranked fifth at 106.
Saferite also has high hopes for Joe Umscheid, a 132-pound senior who was expected to advance to state last spring but was upset at the regional tournament.
“He had a bad weekend at the wrong time,” Saferite said. “… We have a good core of experienced wrestlers that are surrounded by a bunch of kids with very little or no experience. The kids are excited about wrestling, and we have more kids out this year than ever before. We just need to work hard and get better each day.”
The Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association has Central ranked No. 5 as team in Class 5A. Saferite believes it’s realistic to expect a top-three finish at state, but cautioned the Jaguars have a lot of work to do between now and February.
“The biggest challenge will be getting the new inexperienced kids to believe that they can make a difference,” Saferite said. “They may take a few licks right off the bat, but if they can get better each week, we will be just fine at the end of the year.”