Derby had a talented freshmen class this season, but it’s two best newcomers are actually two former state champions not originally in the equation this season.
Garrett Xanders, who was thought to be lost for the season when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in football, and Tanner Smith, who won a state title his sophomore year but didn’t wrestle in last year’s regional tournament, are both seniors who have given Derby an added punch heading into the Class 6A tournament on Friday in Park City.
Derby, ranked third in Class 6A, will have 11 wrestlers competing with six of those wrestlers ranked. Xanders (8-3) is the defending champion in the 152-pound division, while Smith (19-15) is ranked fifth in 138.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start to the season, but this last month it’s really clicked for us,” Derby coach Bill Ross said. “Getting Tanner and Garrett back is great and it’s all starting to come together for us right now. We’ll wait and see if we can carry it over to state.”
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Smith has become a quiet leader for Derby this season in his quest to redeem himself in his senior season. Missing out on the state tournament was disappointing for Smith, who has come back ready to work as hard as possible in a higher weight class.
“You can tell that he’s ready to be back on track and wrestle at the state tournament,” Ross said. “He wants to finish off his senior year on a positive note, for sure. His work ethic is a good one that rubs off on the whole team.”
Smith had to overcome an illness to begin the season, and has found more success recently.
Smith hopes to lean on the experience of winning a state championship in an improbable run his sophomore season.
“It kind of nice when you weren’t really counting on any points from Garrett and then we didn’t have any points from Smith last year,” Ross said. “It’s basically like getting two move-ins that are ready to compete for a state title right away. That helps.”
Valley Center strength in numbers – If Brian Shelton had his way, his teams at Valley Center tean would always find strength in depth and not simply rely on three or four top kids to score the points.
Shelton got his wish this season, as Valley Center has ascended to fourth in the Class 5A rankings with 12 qualifiers, none of whom are ranked in the top three of their divisions.
“When we put together our program, it’s always built on the strength of the team,” Shelton said. “We have guys that aren’t going to quit because they know they have everyone else on the team relying on them.”
Shelton thinks his team is poised to make a run for a trophy after battling the entire season against league foes Goddard (ranked first) and Arkansas City (ranked second). A trophy sweep by Division II of the AV-CTL would not surprise him in the slightest.
“We wrestle in the best league in the state of Kansas, no questions about it, period, end of story,” Shelton said. “That is a very, very tough league to survive in. So we’re used to that kind of competition. Wrestling against the best is nothing new to us.”
Valley Center’s ranked wrestlers are Seth Dillman (26-12, sixth in 126), Ryan Delforge (39-6, fourth in 145), Tyler Boone (32-15, sixth in 152), Sam Weldon (40-4, fourth in 182), and Chase Holle (32-14, fifth in 220).
“I feel like any of those guys can win their division on any given day,” Shelton said. “They know they can beat the guys in their division, it’s just that they have to beat them all in a row.”
Bluestem qualifies more than half its team – Taking four wrestlers to the state tournament may not sound like a big deal to some programs, but it certainly is for Bluestem.
That’s because there were only seven wrestlers on the team this season, meaning Bluestem will send more than half of its team to Hays for the Class 3-2-1A tournament – four-time qualifier Lane Moran (170) and first-time qualifiers Hazen Benton (113), Coy Moran (152), and Daylan Fell (285).
Lane Moran (38-7) is the fifth-ranked wrestler in his class.
“We’re very young and I actually didn’t think we would get more than one, maybe two, into state this season,” coach Kelly Benton said. “But this team completely bought in and showed it is possible to achieve success by working hard and coming together as one.”
Benton said the team of seven practically does everything together during the season, whether it be playing a game of basketball before a practice or going to breakfast after a weigh-in.
“We spend a lot of time together cultivating relationships,” Benton said. “I honestly believe our secret is believing in one another. I think there was a point in the middle of the season where the kids really started believing and it just clicked.”
Independent back – It’s been three years since Independent sent a wrestler to the state tournament, but that frought comes to an end Friday when junior Dylan Vance wrestles in the 120-pound division at the Class 3-2-1A tournament.
Vance (19-10) will wrestle Marysville’s Ethan Crownover in the opening round.
“Everyone is real excited about it because they’ve never heard about a kid going to state in wrestling,” first-year Independent coach Ulysses DeShazer said. “This is going to help build the program. It starts with one and I think (Vance) is going to be the start of something big here.”
DeShazer had 10 wrestlers to work with this season and made it in his mission to change the way they viewed their potential in a sport that has long been an afterthought at the school.
Vance has been his quickest study. Blessed with natural talent, Vance has excelled this season under the tutelage of DeShazer.
In the consolation semifinals at regionals, the match that decided his state tournament fate, Vance executed a “snake” move to pin his opponent. It’s a move that DeShazer taught Vance, one that he couldn’t have made last season.
“It was a very emotional moment,” DeShazer said. “These guys never knew anything about state competition and now they’re jumping up and down and tears were flowing. It was pretty amazing to see.”