Everything seemed to go well the first day of the Class 5A state wrestling tournament at Hartman Arena. That is, until Mother Nature decided to rear her often-ugly head. Saturday’s forecast caused tournament officials to revise the schedule, resulting in the fifth- and third-place matches, along with the championship finals, running concurrently Saturday afternoon.
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Everyone seemed to adjust well to the changes. Although the participants in the championship matches did not receive quite the same spotlight usually reserved for such occasions, they were all champions nonetheless.
The Thunder rolls
Speaking of champions, Arkansas City’s two-year reign on the Class 5A throne came to an end with the crowning of a new King of the Hill.
Last year’s runner-up, Saint James Academy, ascended to its first-ever state wrestling championship. With 180.5 points, the Thunder finished 63 points ahead of runner-up Goddard with 117.5 points. Kapaun Mt. Carmel was third with 101 points, followed by Arkansas City with 100 points and Bishop Carroll with 91 points to round out the top five.
Six Thunder wrestlers advanced to the finals and three of them came home with gold.
Mike Medina, who has coached the Thunder through all of the nine years of the wrestling program, called winning their first-ever state title “an incredible feeling.”
“We’re starting to build a tradition,” he said. “We started nine years ago in this high school with 103 kids, freshmen only, two kids on the wrestling team. We built it up to seven by the end of the first year.”
This year’s state squad included five seniors, all of whom have been important to the Thunder’s success.
“Now we have a senior class who have started an incredible tradition,” Medina said. “To wrestle like they did yesterday and put six young men in the finals, that’s over half the guys we brought, is a great accomplishment.”
Let the games begin
One of the most unusual items about the 14 state championship matches is that all but one were decisions. There was one tech fall but no major decisions and no falls.
There was a lot to watch during the champ finals … Eight matchups between No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers ranked by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association … Eight former champions going for more gold, including two of them in one weight class ... A matchup of unbeaten heavyweights to end the tournament.
Best of the best
With the top two wrestlers at 182 pounds – each with at least 40 wins on the season -- going after each other in the finals, you would expect a close match. No. 1 Trent Salsbury of Saint James Academy and No. 2 Jared Langley of Newton did not disappoint the crowd.
The best either wrestler could produce was an escape as the match went into overtime. In sudden victory, Langley took a shot and got the upper hand. They rolled around on the mat for a few seconds before he was able to complete the takedown and the 3-1 upset.
“The way he wrestles, he scrambles,” Langley said of Salsbury. “We just kept rolling round, rolling around. I was trying to grab his arms so I could pull him into me. I finally stood up with it, and I got it.”
Langley, a junior, won his first title and avenged his only loss in a 41-1 season. Salsbury, a senior, lost for just the second time to go with 46 wins.
“He’s beaten me a couple of times and it feels so good to finally beat him, especially in the state finals,” Langley said.
After losing in the 2013 finals by one point, Langley was hungry.
“It drove me to win this one; I wanted it,” he said.
The 152-pound finals also featured the top two wrestlers in their class, both of whom had won 40-plus matches this season. For nearly the entire match, all Andrew Tujague (No. 1) of Saint James Academy and Luke Henes (No. 2) of St. Thomas Aquinas could muster was an escape each.
Tied with 30 seconds left in the third period, Tujague suddenly began to attack. He shot and although Henes held him off, Tujague seemed to have control. You got the feeling it was only a matter of whether he would finish the takedown before the clock ran out. With one second left, Tujague completed the move for the 2-1 victory and his second crown.
“I just got in on him,” Tujague said. “I knew there was a short time left. I looked up at the clock when he still had my leg and there were four seconds left. I was like, there’s no way this is going to overtime. I just fought as hard as I could to finish it out.”
Tujague won for the 43rd time to go with seven losses. Henes finished 40-6.
No. 1s who won
There is an old saying that cream always rises to the top. In this year’s tournament, 13 of the 14 wrestlers ranked No. 1 advanced to the finals of their respective weight classes. In addition, eight of the finals matches involved the top two ranked wrestlers in the state.
Idris Elias rode his 106-pound opponent, Lane Glover, for the entire third period to preserve both a 3-2 victory and a perfect 33-0 season. Elias, from Wichita Heights, got a takedown in the first period and escaped to start the second. Goddard’s Glover scored a takedown later in the period to slice the deficit to one. He could not escape from Elias in the third, finishing the season 37-4.
The first 1 vs. 2 matchup came at 120 pounds, in which Kapaun’s Parker Howell won his second consecutive championship with an 8-2 decision over Andover’s Jack Maki. Howell, a senior, missed the first part of last season with a broken bone. He returned later in the year and went 15-4 to win it all at 113 pounds.
“I think (winning) this year is a little sweeter,” Howell said. “Two times is a little different class than just a one-timer.”
After Howell took a 2-0 lead in the first period, Maki tied it up with a pair of escapes. Howell, now 37-1, scored the winning takedown in the second period. Maki, a freshman, finished 33-5.
Following the match, Howell jumped into the stands and took a celebratory tour, hugging anyone and everyone.
“I have my whole family here. I even had my grandma drive up from Mississippi to watch me in my final match,” he said. “I just love that, being able to perform in front of people I love.”
With eight returning champions battling for more gold, two of them locked horns in the 126-pound finals. An oddity about this matchup was that neither of them had won a 5A title.
No. 1 Sean Deshazer won his third straight championship, but first in 5A, with an 8-4 decision over Reese Cokeley of Saint James Academy. Deshazer, of Wichita Heights, jumped to an early 6-2 lead and held on as Cokeley, ranked second, tried to get back into the match.
“The key factor was to go out there and strike early, get a few points on the board,” Deshazer said. “Just keep striking, don’t let up.”
Following last week’s regional victory, Deshazer said he would probably celebrate another state championship by going to eat at IHOP with his dad.
“I don’t know, I’m pretty tired, I might just sleep,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, it’s probably still on.”
Now 36-0, Deshazer’s first two titles came in 6A. Cokeley (38-5) won a championship in 4A.
Two takedowns were more than enough for No. 1 Zach Hensley of Saint James Academy to win his first state championship. Hensley recorded a 4-1 decision over No. 2 Sawyer Like of Blue Valley Southwest in the 132-pound finals. The top-ranked Hensley won his 49th match of the season to go with just six losses. Like, who was No. 2 in class, lost in the finals for the second straight year.
In another 1 vs. 2 contest, this time at 138 pounds, top-ranked Tyler Dickman of Mill Valley eked out a 3-1 decision over Kevin Kissane, who became Maize South’s first-ever state finalist. From the top position to start the second period, Dickman (16-0) got Kissane onto his back and picked up three points for the near fall. Kissane (33-8) escaped later in the period to make it 3-1. He tried the entire third period to get Dickman to his back but failed to do so.
Lansing’s Michael Olsen grabbed a 5-1 lead after two periods over Dayton Will of Salina Central in the 145-pound match and went on to win his second championship with a 7-3 decision. Olsen finished his senior year unbeaten at 36-0. Will, a junior, was 36-7.
At 160 pounds, St. Thomas Aquinas junior Isaac Dulgarian struck for an early lead and bagged a 10-4 decision over Ben VanLerberg of Saint James Academy. The top-ranked Dulgarian (40-1) won his second state title, the first coming at 120 pounds in 2012. VanLerberg, ranked second, concluded his season at 48-10.
Matt Pratt, a junior from Saint James Academy, built a 9-1 lead and eased to a 9-3 decision over Carter Hall at 170 pounds. Pratt capped a 51-6 season with his first state championship. Hall, a junior from Shawnee Heights, finished the year 30-6.
Chalk up another tech fall for Preston Weigel. The Hays senior capped a 40-0 season with his second straight 195-pound championship in a 16-1 tech fall over Austin McBee of Blue Valley Southwest. The top-ranked Weigel won all four of his state matches and both regional matches by tech falls. Three of them came in the first period, the other two early in the second.
What better way to wrap-up the state tournament than with the top two heavyweight wrestlers. Both top-ranked Tyson Toelkes of Shawnee Heights and No. 2 Ray Gallegos of Newton entered the final match of their high school careers undefeated, but only one would wind up that way when the final whistle blew.
Toelkes (33-0) made a first-period takedown pay off as he eked out a 3-1 victory. Gallegos (36-1) escaped in the second period, but Toelkes gave himself a little breathing room by doing the same thing in the third period.
No No. 1s allowed
In the only championship match without a top-ranked wrestler, Bishop Carroll’s Nick Nolting eased by Arkansas City’s Malcolm Pink for a 5-2 decision at 220 pounds. Pink, who is ranked third and upset No. 1 Ben Ewing in the semifinals, had Nolting (26-2) on his knees in the third period, trailing 4-2. But Nolting, ranked second, escaped and held Pink (36-11) off for the win.
No. 1 who lost
The first No. 1 wrestler to falter in the finals was Paul Stuart of Andover. The freshman had no answer for No. 4 Logan Terrill, losing 4-0 to the Arkansas City wrestler at 113 pounds. Terrill, now 33-7, won his second state title, having captured the 106-pound crown last year. Stuart finished 33-2.
Going into the tournament, Saint James’ Stephen Tujague was ranked second at 113 pounds. With a 37-6 record, Tujague would have been one of the favorites to advance to the finals. He was paired against a female wrestler in the first round and forfeited that match because of a Kansas City Archdiocese policy that prohibits wrestling against a person of the opposite gender. Tujague fought through the backside to finish third.
By the numbers
Eight wrestlers entered the tournament with unblemished marks. They were Zach Campbell of Topeka West, 35-0 at 106 pounds; Deshazer of Wichita Heights, 32-0 at 126 pounds; Dickman of Mill Valley, 12-0 at 138 pounds; Olsen of Lansing, 32-0 at 145 pounds; Weigel of Hays, 36-0 at 195; Ewing of Saint James Academy, 34-0 at 220 pounds; along with Gallegos of Newton (33-0) and Toelkes of Shawnee Heights (29-0), both at 285 pounds.
That number was reduced to six by the time the championship finals rolled around. Campbell lost a major decision in the quarterfinals and did not place. Ewing dropped a double-overtime decision in the semifinals and placed third.
There were eight returning champions in the finals: Terrill (113), Howell (120), Deshazer and Cokeley (126), Olsen (145), Tujague (152), Dulgarian (160), and Weigel (195).