Cason Lindsey stepped off the mat with a win every time but one.
Lindsey won the consolation bracket at the Derby Invitational, earning a third-place finish and proving to the rest of the state the Panthers aren’t falling off from the Kansas wrestling scene soon. He is a freshman, and there are plenty more young, talented wrestlers who will come up with him.
Derby entered the championship matches in second behind only Goddard in the team standings, and though less than a handful of Panthers won their weight class, 12 placed in the top six, and six were in the final four.
Coach Bill Ross said with only one senior wrestling this weekend and given the outcomes some of the younger wrestlers, the future is encouraging to say the least.
Xavier Sisco moved up a weight class to wrestle in the home invite at the varsity level. Usually delegated to the JV team, Sisco, a sophomore, said he liked how he was thankful for the experience.
Sisco made it tot he consolation semifinals and took his opponent to three sudden victory periods before losing. His teammate and bonafide starter at 132 pounds, Brandon Becker, was at the top of the podium, but raised an eyebrow in impression when he talked about what he saw from Sisco. The 132 podium was the only of the lower weight classes that boasted two wrestlers from the same school.
“We have a whole team of a bunch of grinders,” Becker said. “Everybody works hard in the practice room, so everybody deserves a shot. Even if they’re not the No. 1 guy, they deserve that shot to wrestle in the varsity tournament and become the No. 1 guy sooner or later.”
Sisco said training under Becker, a state champion, has been extremely helpful. He said he used some of the moves Becker has taught him during his run through the bracket.
Becker, the lone Derby senior, who took the mat this weekend, said with young wrestlers like Sisco, Lindsey and others, he feels he can take on more of a coaching role and at times just admire the direction the program is heading.
“I feel like the dad,” Becker said. “This youth movement is pretty impressive. Seeing all these younger guys stepping up and being rock-solid wrestlers, it’s insane.
“When I was a freshman, I hate to say it, but Cason’s on a whole other level than I was when I was a freshman.”
Ross said the young trend is happening across Kansas, and there is data to prove it.
Although Winfield didn’t place highly in the team standings, the Vikings don’t have a senior on the roster. And at the Derby Invitational alone, seven of the 28 finalists were freshmen or sophomores, which is relatively high given the competition level. Some of the Wichita-area’s best teams were in the Derby gym Saturday, including Goddard, Campus and Valley Center.
“Kansas youth wrestling has come a long ways, and there’s good, young kids coming up through their club programs and through the middle schools,” Ross said. “Kansas can compete with these Oklahoma schools, Iowa, we’re gettin’ there.”
Lindsey resonated that same token. He has wrestled across the U.S. and said he has competed against some of the best Kansas has to offer, many of whom were in Derby over the weekend. Lindsey said the shift is fun to watch.
“We just keep beating up on each other, and it’s fun,” Lindsey said. “It’s good to see that Kansas wrestling is going up, and it’s great to wrestle in.”
Derby hasn’t won a Class 6A wrestling championship since 1985 when Lindsey’s dad was on the team, but the Panthers have already made strides toward the top.
Thursday night, Derby traveled to Class 5A power Arkansas City and came out with a 35-34 victory. Lindsey earned a technical fall to expand the Panthers’ lead late, and they hung on. Lindsey’s win was Derby’s last.
Ross, from Arkansas City, said it was a special atmosphere to wrestle in, especially for the younger athletes on his roster.
“The gym was packed, and the great thing about the dual was Ark City’s kids gave 100 percent, and the Derby kids gave 100 percent,” Ross said. “There wasn’t one match where both competitors didn’t give it all they had.”
The top of Derby’s roster is good enough to win individual championships. That is the key. Although the sophomores and freshmen might not be at the upperclassmen level yet, their impactful influx into the lineup, meshed with the experience the Panthers have make them one of the Wichita-area teams to beat, particularly in Class 6A.
Becker won his bracket at 132 pounds. Crew Squires came runner-up at 145. Lindsey’s brother, Cade, another stalward of Derby wrestling, won at 152. Triston Wills followed at 160, and Ronnie Washington made it to the finals as well at 285.
Clearly success is brewing, and Cason Lindsey said he and the rest of his “brotherhood” know it.
“It’s not goin’ anywhere,” Lindsey said. “We’re gonna be right there competing for many more years. It’s not goin’ anywhere.”