Hoxie wins long-awaited state wrestling title
HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hoxie’s Drew Bretz served as a manager for the Indian wrestling squad in eighth grade. Bretz and his teammates looked forward to high school and wanted to continue Hoxie’s legacy of excellent individual wrestlers. Hoxie has at least one titlist every year since 2010. The conversations revolved around team success, too. Hoxie hadn’t won a team championship since ’03.
The individual champions had yielded three second place finishes and three thirds for Hoxie in the team standings in the last 10 years. Last season, Hoxie was a slight favorite over Norton entering state. The Indians fell seven points short of the title. This season, the goal continued to win Mike Porsch his first team championship as the Indians’ head coach.
“Including myself, we had a couple kids not wrestle to their peak performance at the (’20) state tournament, so we just all had a fire under us, and knew we’d have to go all the way to the finals to win this one,” Bretz said.
Hoxie was a heavy favorite all winter and dominated the field with 154 points at the Class 3-2-1A state championship Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays. The close-knit sophomore-heavy Indians defeated runner-up Hill City by 70 points. Eureka took third with 61, and Norton fourth at 54.5. It marked 3-2-1A’s biggest margin of victory since 2010.
“Everybody has been waiting for it,” junior Drew Bell said. “Everybody has been trying, and there’s been old high schoolers that came up to us and talked to us and tried to kind of inspire us to get one for him.”
Hoxie won its 11th overall title and first ones since ’98, ’99, ’02 and ’03. Porsch, an Indian graduate, had served as an assistant on those four teams. This winter, Hoxie, one of Kansas’ smaller 3-2-1A schools, became the first school in Kansas history to play eight-man football and win a state wrestling title.
“It’s been 18 years since we have brought one of these home,” Porsch said. “It’s time. It’s time. Kids worked hard. For the most part, we got what we earned.”
In high school, Porsch finished second in ’87 and fourth the following year for longtime coach Kirk Baker, a 2019 Hall of Famer. Porsch eventually replaced Baker as head coach.
“It means that hopefully the kids respect me as much as I respect them,” Porsch said. “A lot of hard work on both parts, but that’s nice to think that they think that way. Not that it’s for me. It’s for them. But we are a team, and it’s nice to see them wrestle for each other. And if I am part of the team, the wrestling’s for me, too – that’s the way it should be.”
Last season, Hoxie had three individual titlists, including with Drew Bell and Derek Johnson. Drew Bretz took a disappointing sixth at 120 and Aidan Baalman finished third at 160.
“Really wasn’t what I wanted, so it lit a fire under me,” Bretz said. “Made me get my work in over the summer and ultimately just have that intensity to know that I had a good shot at winning it, as long as I just went hard till the end.”
Last year, Tate Weimer and Dayton Bell didn’t qualify for state. Wayne Shepard and Brandon Baker finished a combined 1-4 at state.
This year, Hoxie led the field with nine qualifiers. All nine earned a medal as Hoxie built a massive early lead. Midway through Saturday, Hoxie was threatening the all-time 3-2-1A margin of victory of 94 points.
“We were hoping we could get Mike one last year, but it kind of fell short towards the end,” Drew Bell said. “And I am glad that we got to lead by this much and bring him this one this year. Hopefully we will get to keep it going, too.”
Drew won the title in dominating fashion with three first-period falls at 132. Johnson finished 43-0 with a 145-pound championship. At 138, Bretz faced Oakley senior Eric Cain for a seventh time this year.
The pair had split the first six meetings, and Cain earned a 1-0 victory in the sub-state finals. This time, Bretz beat Silver Lake’s Kai Allen, 3-1, in the semifinals, and Cain, 6-4, in the championship. Allen was a former state champion.
As a sophomore, Weimer (36-10) finished second at 106. Shepard, a sophomore, went 38-10 and earned fourth at 113. Carson Ochs (36-10) was sixth at 120 as a freshman.
Dayton Bell (39-5) was the 126-pound runner-up as a sophomore. Baalman, Hoxie’s only senior qualifier, took a disappointing 5-3 finals loss to Eureka’s Brennan Lowe and finished 45-1 at 160. Baker, a junior, earned sixth with a 30-8 mark at 285.
Porsch coached his two older sons, Tristan and Dayton, to a combined six individual state titles. His daughter, Marissa, has placed fourth and third on the girls’ side the last two seasons. A coach for more than 25 years and highly respected in Kansas, Porsch had led Hoxie to runner-up showings in ’12, ’13 and ’20. Particularly last year, there was a belief Hoxie could end its team title drought.
Porsch, a farmer, lives around a 20-minute drive from Hoxie. Twice a day, for morning and afternoon workouts, he makes the drive to Hoxie on dirt roads.
“He is the best coach that I have ever had, and he is a great mentor,” Drew Bell said.
For all other years, the top-16 advanced to the two-day state tournament from regionals.
This year, COVID-19 protocol yielded four rounds of playoffs: districts, regionals, sub-state and state. Just eight advanced from sub-state to state in each weight class for the one-day competition. Many of the western opponents saw each other over and over again this year because of the playoff format.
“Obviously you had that thought in the back of your mind, if you get beat out here, you are done,” Bretz said. “So we obviously had to think about that, but mostly coach just told us go out there, wrestle, have fun. It will all work out for us in the end.”
Hoxie opened state with a fall by Weimer in the quarterfinals. That started eight straight falls for the Indians. Hoxie went 8-1 in the quarterfinals and put six into championship matches. Overall, Hoxie finished with 12 pins. Hill City had nine, the other squad with more than five. Drew Bell, Whitewater-Remington 120-pound senior Wyatt Wright and Osage City 285-pound senior Dane Whalen led the field with 26 individual points.
“We have kind of been on a roll with having really good rounds like that,” Porsch said. “You kind of wonder how the tournament is going to start, but when we kind of had some close matches there and came up and won and got some falls and kind of got on a roll, it was really fun.”
Hoxie long had the state title secured entering the finals. The bouts started at 170, and Drew Bell won the first individual crown for the Indians.
Drew is highly amped before matches, often because of watching his brother’s bouts beforehand. Purposefully, sometimes Hoxie puts him in the back so Drew can’t watch Dayton. That didn’t occur before the semifinals and finals matches.
Once Drew came on the mat for the finals, he ran over to the head table. Then, he ran back. His routine included a squat and stretch followed by open palm hand slaps on both sides of his head. Then, he quickly walked back and forth several feet before he instantly attacked Atchison County’s Mason Scholz off the start and quickly earned the pin.
“Trying to get into the right mind space to go out and wrestle to the best of my ability,” Drew said.
Last year, Bretz went 2-3 at state. He lost to Norton’s Kolton Field in the state semifinals, and then Wright on the backside. Field went onto win the ’20 state title and captured another one Saturday.
This time, Bretz won his first state title. During last week, Bretz worked harder on his shots. He had beaten Cain, a 2020 state runner-up, on takedowns. Bretz believed he could take down Cain again. He controlled the match and built a 6-2 lead early in the third period.
“Really good,” Porsch said. “He wrestled so good last year, and then kind of just let nerves get to him a little bit at the state tournament. That’s probably been wearing on him for a year, and he responded well. Doesn’t have that to worry about again. He came through the tough side of the bracket. A little disappointment last weekend, but he more than redeemed himself.”
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