When Kapaun wrestling coach Tim Dryden approached this season he knew what obstacles he would face—Northwest in the City League, tough 5A schools like Arkansas City in the state tournament. He didn’t expect injuries to have the significant influence they have had.
“We were disappointed to see so many injured kids so early. This is probably the worst we’ve seen at our program,” Dryden said. “It was frustrating at the beginning of the season, and it’s still frustrating. It’s not even from a wrestling standpoint that we miss those wrestlers but it’s from a leadership standpoint.”
Kapaun has found success in spite of the frustrating circumstances. Sophomore Andrew Egan has scored key points in tournaments, usually finishing in the top three at 106 pounds. Senior Sam Wescott has filled the 170 spot, Ethan Harp has continued to improve at 195, while Nick Heiland and Sam Lafleur have embodied a leadership position. Young and less-experienced wrestlers have thrived in varsity matches, contributing to Kapaun’s second-place standing in the City League.
“I’m not surprised with the growth for the fact that we know what we do in the wrestling room,” Dryden said. “We try to simplify things and do a lot of repetition and make it easier for new kids or kids who have never wrestled. I’m not surprised, but I am surprised at how quickly we were able to compete against some kids.”
Senior Alex Mills was injured last season and could finally return Thursday in Kapaun’s home dual against South. Luke Wilson recently returned at 138 after qualifying for state last season at 145. Two-time state placer Parker Howell was injured in the first tournament of the season, but should be able to compete at 113 before the season ends.
“It’s good to see the kids getting excited,” Dryden said. “We’re struggling through it but it’s also a valuable learning experience with the younger kids. They’re wrestling some matches that they probably wouldn’t have without the injuries. That will make us so much better for next season.”
Getting close — Derby’s wrestling program is well established among the top teams in Class 6AIn the last 10 years the Panthers have brought home seven team trophies from the state tournament, but a first-place trophy hasn’t been seen at Derby since 1986.
“We try to stress as much as we can the importance of the state tournament being a team effort. It will have to be a complete and total effort as a team to win the state tournament,” Derby coach Bill Ross said. “It would mean everything to this community if we could get that done and that’s what we’re working toward.”
The team finished fourth last season, and Ross knows what Derby will have to do to inch closer to its goal.
“We need to pull out the close matches and we need to improve in the second round of state,” Ross said. “A team state championship would mean more to these guys than individual state titles.”
Senior Ben Becker is leading the team this season, carrying over his work ethic and success from his football season.
“(Becker’s) one of the first kids in the room, and the last one to leave. I’d say what helps him the most is his work ethic and his leadership,” Ross said. “Whether he’s playing cards at home with his family or he’s on the wrestling mat or on the football field he’s going to give it one hundred percent.”
Derby is ranked fourth in the state. Becker is ranked first at 152, joined by six other Derby wrestlers with state rankings: Braden Dipman at 106, Cody McDonald at 113, Jared Suppes at 138, Chandler Ayer at 160, Jose Santillon at 170 and Matt Kissinger at 220.