WAKEENEY, Kan. - Colby 13th-year wrestling coach Matt Sims and multiple Eagles list several reasons for the Eagles’ improvement and success this winter. Sims gave significant credit to his coaching staff. Rick Williams has served every year of Sims’ tenure. Rees McKinney, the head football coach, joined wrestling for the first time this winter.
Cole Garcia, a two-time state champion from Colby, has coached with the program since 2013. Daily, Garcia partners with the upper weights, which is the Eagles’ strength this season.
“Having him in the room is a lot of help, a lot of fun,” sophomore 195-pounder Hagan Booi said.
As well, Colby is a resilient team who has fought through key injuries. The group has strong chemistry and enjoys working together. On Saturday, the Eagles continued their strong season with a Class 3-2-1A regional title at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School.
Colby collected 168 points, well ahead of second-place Plainville (122) and Norton (121.5). Hoxie, which had four champions, was fourth at 112 in the stacked field.
“We work their tail off, but we do try and keep things short and to the point, and they just do a good job of having fun themselves,” Sims said. “There’s a good camaraderie amongst each other, and so you’ve just got to live in and love that moment and enjoy it. Have fun.”
In this week’s state rankings, Colby again stood first, while Plainville, Norton and Hoxie were all in the top-six. Colby qualified eight for the state tournament and won three regional titles: freshman Tyler Voss at 106, senior Kurt Schroeder at 138 and Booi at 195.
Freshman Aiden Cook (28-14) earned third at 120 and junior Cade Lanning (21-18) was third at 152. Senior Kory Finley (35-11) took third at 182, and senior Tucker Branum (21-4) collected second at 220. Sophomore Declan Ryan (30-13) was third at 285.
“In the wrestling room, we get after it, balls to the wall,” Booi said. “We have a lot of fun in the wrestling room, which helps us carry on and get better.”
The 3-2-1A state champion has come from the west every year since 2001. Colby is the prohibitive favorite entering next week’s state tournament at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum on Friday and Saturday. Colby has five all-time wrestling titles, most recently in ’01, ’09 and ’16, all in 4A. Last year, the Eagles took seventh in 3-2-1A with 58.5 points.
“Rankings-wise, we would be the favorite,” Sims said. “We just want to take care of Colby, and the problem of state tournaments is, you can’t play defense, so some team gets on a roll, you just never know. But I like our group and man, we are just going to go out and have some fun and do it.”
Last year, Finley took fourth at state. Schroeder, Booi and Branum all qualified but each went 1--2 at state. Ryan did not reach the state tournament. Collectively, the quintet for a 125-77 record. This year, it’s a cumulative 153-41 mark.
“It’s what you would want out of your senior year to have a successful season,” Finley said.
Lanning was a JV wrestler in 2018 and didn’t compete at the regional meet. He was seeded sixth and took third, the third biggest seed-place difference in the field.
“Our guys are pretty resilient, and do a good job of things,” Sims said. “Man, I have got a great group of kids. They are fun to work with.”
In addition to Garcia, Rowdy Farr, mainly a junior varsity wrestler, has been a solid practice partner.
“Shooting, everything, getting better at bottom, top,” Finley said. “We flow much better now.”
Last season, Rathe Aschbrenner finished 20-7 and took third at 106 pounds. This winter, Aschbrenner, a junior, has been ranked No. 3 at 113 nearly all winter. However, he has been unable to compete since the Jan. 26 Rocky Welton tournament in Garden City. Schroeder said Colby “moved on real quick” from Aschenbrenner’s absence.
“It stinks not having him around, but we’ve just got to put it to the side, and pretend like it never happened, and get after it,” Booi said. “I think we are in the hunt for a state title. I think if we all go wrestle, we will get it. I think that’s what we all want, too.”
Also at Garden City, Schroeder suffered a broken hand. He had not wrestled again before this weekend. Schroeder’s hand was heavily taped, but still recorded a pair of falls, each in 1 minute, 44 seconds.
“Never quit – he broke his hand, and he is still giving all he has got,” Finley said. “There’s just nothing more I could ask for him. It’s just impressive to me.”
In the finals, he defeated Atwood-Rawlins County sophomore Kendrick Woody, 6-0. Schroeder said “everything is clicking a little more” for him this season.
“Moves happening better, putting things together better,” he said. “I don’t really have to think about stuff as much, just wrestle.”
Voss has enjoyed a highly impressive season and moved up the rankings. He is the lone Eagle ranked No. 1 at his weight class. After a bye and fall in two minutes, Voss had back-to-back 4-0 decisions.
“It’s great,” Finley said. “We enjoy watching him. It’s nice seeing good freshmen come in.”
Across all classes, 24 wrestlers are ranked at 195 pounds, 15 are seniors. Booi, ranked second behind Hoisington junior Wyatt Pedigo, is the only sophomore ranked in a classification traditionally led by upper classmen. However, Booi has not given any thought to classes or rankings. All of his regional matches came versus seniors.
Seeded first, Booi won by fall in 49 seconds, 43 seconds and 66 seconds. In one of the better finals matches, Booi held off Plainville senior Ryan Junkermeier, 4-3. Junkermeier is ranked third at 195 behind Booi and also picked up a Shrine Bowl football invitation.
Booi and Finley each finished with three falls. In the entire field, only three wrestlers had four. Booi led the team in individual points with 26, two ahead of Schroeder.
“Hagan has wrestled a long time in his life, and his mom and dad hauled him everywhere,” Sims said. “And then he is just really gifted and really talented, and so you put that with hard work, things are going to pay off for him.”
While many of the top wrestlers have faced each other this season, Pedigo and Booi have not matched up. They have faced once, when Booi was in eighth grade, and Pedigo was a freshman in kids’ district. Pedigo earned a win by decision.
“I am excited to get the opportunity,” Booi said.
At 285, Ryan, unranked, has enjoyed a big turnaround. He was seeded fifth and finished third, a plus-two seed/place difference, tied for fourth-best.
In the quarterfinals, Ryan picked up a huge victory when he pinned Wichita County’s Jesse Hermosillo in 3 minutes, 23 seconds. In the third/fourth match, he pinned Hermosillo again, this time in 4:26.
“Those guys have come a long way, and a lot of credit to themselves, because they just come in and work hard everyday,” Sims said. “And I’ve got a great group of assistants who work with them, care about kids, and I am just blessed to be a part of it. So we have a lot of fun doing it, and it’s a good time.”