Over the past few seasons, Andale has established itself as one of the best wrestling teams in the state.
Much of its recent success — four straight top-five finishes at state — can be attributed to its youth wrestling program called Brawlers, which teaches kids the fundamentals and philosophies that are taught at the high school.
According to Indians coach Brad Lies, it's this continuity starting at a young age that has led his teams to being competitive at the state level.
"We're lucky to have the kids start wrestling at a young age and they can see what it takes to wrestle with us," Lies said. "Being able to have it makes the transition with us much smoother and we know they are being taught what we want them to."
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This season, five wrestlers — all with Brawlers experience — are ranked in the top three in their weight classes. As a team, Andale is pegged by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association as the top team in Class 4A.
Some of the disappointing finishes last season at the state tournament are what is motivating the Indians this season.
"Jake (Hattabaugh) was our only state champion last season and B.J. (Finney) and Benny (Armstrong) both lost in the finals to guys they beat during the regular season, so that was disappointing," said Lies, whose team plays host to Circle tonight. "It's driving these kids to win this year and when the rest of the kids see how our top guys are practicing, it makes them want to work harder."
Derby Invitational — Some of the area's finest will come together this weekend at the Derby Invitational, as nine ranked teams and 50 ranked wrestlers are in the field.
While every class is stacked with talent, there are two classes to keep an eye on.
At 135, Chase Nitcher from Valley Center, Ulysses DeShazer from Heights, Travis Reinhart from Derby and Kash Biddle from Arkansas City are ranked in the top four of their class. At 140, Tre Houlden from Goddard, Bradley Little from Derby and Vance Oliver from Winfield are all in the top two.
"A lot of times, these types of tournaments are more difficult than a regional or a state format," Goddard coach Brett Means said. "We look at both the team title and the individual title. Of course we want to win the tournament, but it's important that each kid get a chance to face tough competition."