Ring for Ross
The Derby High School wrestling team lined up at the top of the stands as the team from 1986 looked down on history from the wall of the upper concourse.
The Panthers won their first team title since senior Cade Lindsey’s dad was on the team. They needed every match, including the final, beating Manhattan 200-197 at the Class 6A tournament.
Lindsey was beaten in the semifinal round by Wichita West freshman Quentin Saunders.
He said to win the team title was so sweet.
“It was really hard for me to fall asleep last night,” he said. “I woke up in the middle of the night sweating. I just decided that I’m going to come in tomorrow with a better attitude and be a leader for those guys on the back side. A team title hasn’t been done here in over 30 years, so that means a lot to me.”
The Panthers’ tournament started with what turned out to be a pivotal match. Sophomore Cody Woods pinned Washburn Rural’s Bishop Murray in 37 seconds in the second round. Murray was 36-0 and the defending champion at 106 pounds in Class 6A. Without Woods’, or any other Panthers win, the title drought would have continued.
Coach Bill Ross said after his team was announced as champion, he couldn’t help but get emotional. Derby has brought home seven state trophies since 2000; none have “state champion” on them until now.
“I’ve never hugged so many people all at once except maybe when I had my babies,” he said. “This is just so unreal right now.”
The final bout of the night featured Mill Valley sophomore Ethan Kremer and Manhattan’s Christian Schlepp. Derby, up three points, needed Kremer to win. He did with a 5-1 decision in the 220-pound championship bout.
The Derby fans chanted his name throughout the match, and Panther wrestlers hugged him and his coach afterward. Lindsey said they might forward him a state ring and photoshop him into the team picture.
Derby finished with two 6A individual champions in seniors Triston Wills at 182 pounds and Crew Squires at 152. Wills’ victory meant two straight individual titles. Squires’ meant two in one year after he helped the football team to the 6A championship in the fall.
Wills was the last Derby wrestler to go Saturday. He needed to win a championship for Derby to have a shot. He beat Washburn Rural junior Gavin Carter by a 9-3 decision. He said he welcomed the pressure.
“I live for it,” he said. “I love big matches. I always wanted to be in the spotlight. If there had to be someone with the pressure on to pull it out for the team, I’d want to take that responsibility.”
Senior 195-pounder Bryce Westmoreland was one of seven Panthers to wrestle their final bouts in a green singlet Saturday. He didn’t capture an individual title, finishing third, but he said making school history felt sweet enough for him.
“I get emotional just talking about it,” he said. “I was so nervous for the whole tournament but definitely for that last match. I couldn’t even stand still.”
Falling in Lion
Troy, Jace and Jerrdon Fisher were looking forward to 2019.
It was the only year the three brothers could be together on the Goddard wrestling team. And they capitalized, helping push the Lions to their fifth straight team title in Class 5A. Goddard beat rival Arkansas City by 74 points.
“I don’t know (what separates us),” senior Troy Fisher said. “We just work, wrestle hard and stay focused. There’s not really one answer.”
Troy Fisher, who is committed to wrestle at Northwestern, wrapped up his high school career with a second straight individual title at 170 pounds. He beat Blue Valley Southwest junior Seth Nitzel by a 20-5 technical fall. Fisher said it was the perfect way to go out with his brothers next to him.
“We’ve definitely grown closer this year,” he said. “Our goal was for all three of us to be state champs this year. We obviously didn’t get that done, but it was still a great year, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Jace and Jerrdon Fisher didn’t win individual titles but both finished in the top three of their weight classes. Jace was runner-up at 138 pounds to BV Southwest junior Brandon Madden by a 4-2 decision that came down to the final seconds. Jace rounded the corner and looked to have earned a buzzer-beating takedown, but it was not given.
Jerrdon lost to Great Bend junior Carsyn Schooler in the semifinal round by a 5-2 decision but came back and beat BV Southwest’s Joseph Dennison and KC Schlagle’s Jonah Andrews to finish third at 126 pounds.
Jerrdon finished his freshman season 42-8 and said though it didn’t end as he wanted, he was happy he had the opportunity to win a team title for one year as a family.
“Ever since fifth grade, my dad has been talking about it that we would get all three of us in school for one year,” he said.
Goddard sent 12 wrestlers to the Class 5A tournament. Eleven reached the quarterfinals in what coach Brett Means called the best round of his career. And all scored team points, including Troy Fisher and junior Jason Henschel who brought home the two individual titles.
Henschel won his 113-pound championship match over BV Southwest freshman Brett Umentum and capped a 32-4 season. He said he has been training hard to become one of the best wrestlers in Kansas.
“All the younger kids look up to me,” he said. “Next year, I’ll be a senior and help build this thing back up again.”
Goddard had two sets of brothers on this year’s team. The Fisher trio and Cayleb and Cayden Atkins brothers all finished in the top four of their respective brackets and earned 105.5 of the Lions’ 225 points.
Troy said to go through everything with this group was something he won’t forget. He looks forward to what the future Lions can do.
“I know if I was a junior, I would be thinking, ‘six,’” he said.
A chance at four
West freshman Quentin Saunders’ grandmother, Marie Martin, didn’t get the chance to watch history.
Martin died in January. She was 96. Saturday, her grandson won his first Kansas Class 6A 170-pound state championship by a 10-0 major decision against Manhattan senior Quincy Saddler. He was the first Pioneer wrestler to reach a final in about half a decade, and he is just 14.
“If I had a message for her, I’d say, ‘I love you, and I’m gonna do this for you,’” Saunders said.
Before Quentin Saunders entered high school, one of his club wrestling coaches said a common “You better watch out for this kid.” He was right.
Before last week’s Class 6A regional tournament, Saunders was undefeated. He suffered his first loss in Garden City to Derby’s Cade Lindsey. It was a 5-1 decision in the semifinals. A week later, West athletic director Weston Schartz was talking with wrestling coach Kenny Taylor.
“We’re gonna beat him,” Taylor told him. “Watch us.”
Schartz said Taylor wasn’t being cocky, just confident in a 14-year-old. Later that day, he beat Lindsey 3-1 in the first sudden victory period. Saunders said he wasn’t shocked to take down the Oklahoma State-bound senior, but most of Hartman Arena was.
“It’s just natural to me,” Saunders said. “I don’t have no emotions playing sports. I’m just a born athlete.”
Saunders is one of the best 170-pounders at his age. He has been through national tournaments, world tournaments and won two triple crowns, he said. Saunders said the state tournaments stage doesn’t get to him.
He is quiet, hard to break, composed under pressure. Saunders is one of three Wichita Public Schools students to reach a wrestling state title bout. Wichita Northwest senior heavyweight Marcus Hicks is another, and South junior Malachi Karibo (in the 160-pound class) is the third. He and Hicks were the two winners.
Saunders said he has known Karibo for years. They wrestled together on their club team. Being close in weight, they became sparring partners and good friends.
Karibo wrestled Manhattan senior Bubba Wilson in the state championship bout and suffered a 7-4 decision. Karibo is a City League champion and regional runner-up. He said being part of rare WPS company is special, and Saunders did, too.
“We’re ready,” Karibo said. “We want it. Just got to go out there and achieve it.”
Saunders said wrestling isn’t even his No. 1 sport; he does it because his mother wanted him to. He said it helps with his balance and agility, but his goal is the NFL. He is a linebacker and running back at West.
Schartz, who is also the football coach at West, said Saunders is one of the keys to building a program.
“He’ll be a two-time all-metro kid and all-state,” Schartz said. “The kid has just won his whole life.”
But Saunders said he is putting everything into Saturday night’s championship bout for his grandmother and for history.
Taylor said he has full confidence in his freshman. He isn’t the average 14-year-old. He said he has never coached one like Saunders.
“He’s the reason why I had to go back to the weight room over the summer because I work out with him,” Taylor said. “He’s the real deal. He’s legit.”
For a bigger purpose
Braden Morgan points to the sky ahead of every match.
The El Dorado senior finished his high school career with his late father in mind, no doubt. He earned a technical fall at 15-0 over Chapman junior Zachery Ferris in the championship bout — his second state title.
He knew he was going to win it before the season even started.
“It feels good to finally be recognized as one of the best, because I know I am, and I’m finally proving to everybody that I am,” Morgan said in January. “But I’m still hungry. I’m not even close to where I want to be. I’ve already got a state title under my belt. I want another one, but that comes in the motion of winning a national title.
“I expect that state title. I don’t expect a national title. This to me is a pit stop along the way. I think I can beat anyone in the state of Kansas, no matter who they are. I’m just ready.”
Morgan is one of the top wrestlers in the country at 220 pounds. He finished his senior season at 32-2; his only two losses came to Class 5A runner-up Cade Lautt, a St. James Academy junior and another nationally ranked wrestler.
Morgan’s father died Oct. 20, 2013. Morgan was in bed next to him. He rolled over and saw that his dad, Russell, wasn’t breathing. He died of a heart attack at 50 years old.
Morgan said he was his best friend.
“I used to hate wrestling,” he said in January. “My eighth-grade year, I quit. I only did it for my dad. ... I wouldn’t be where I am without that struggle at 13 years old.”
In his dad’s arms
Gabe Buckbee knew who to run to.
The Arkansas City senior finished his high school career Saturday with his second state championship, third title appearance and fourth semifinal qualification. He beat Maize’s Aidan Campbell 6-5 in the ultimate tiebreaker period. He jumped into his dad and coach, Greg Buckbee. It capped one of Kansas’ best rivalries.
“I felt it last year, too,” Buckbee said. “Right after you win, just go straight to your dad — the person that’s been with you for your whole life through all of your tough situations.”
Buckbee and Campbell met at the Newton Tournament of Champions final. Campbell won 2-1 in the first tiebreaker period. They met at Ark City’s Class 5A regional tournament final at 132 pounds. It was the same result.
Buckbee said he will never forget winning when it mattered most.
“I knew I was the better wrestler,” Buckbee said. “He is a great opponent. I knew I had to get a takedown. I planned it out all week in my head at night, what I wanted to do. And I did almost exactly what I thought about. the big thing is just visualization.”
Sooner or later
Marcus Hicks is one of the best athletes to come through the Wichita area in recent years.
He is signed to play defensive end at the University of Oklahoma after his graduation from Wichita Northwest in the spring. But he made his mark before he left with his first state championship Saturday after coming runner-up in 5A football in the fall.
Hicks beat Valley Center junior Tony Caldwell 3-1 in the first sudden victory period. He isn’t just a football player; he has been wrestling since he was 4, he said.
“This is just a character builder,” Hicks said. “I probably wouldn’t be the man I am today without this sport.”
Hicks and Caldwell were cautious out of the gate. Neither wrestler took a shot in the first period, and after just one in the first minute of the second period, the referee issued a double caution. A couple of escapes set up Hicks’ overtime title.
Hicks came fourth in Class 6A last year and took sixth at 220 pounds in 2017. His state title season was finished with a 36-1 record.
“This whole time I’ve been wrestling, it’s all been for a state championship,” he said.
Kings of Maize
The best 1-2 punch in Kansas might reside in Maize.
Junior 145-pounder Devin Gomez and sophomore 182-pounder Kyle Haas finished their seasons with one combined loss and a pair of state championships. Both were on a redemption path in 2019.
Gomez came third in 2017 and runner-up last year. But he capped a 50-0 season with a 7-3 decision over 52-win Aquinas sophomore Jared Simma. Gomez transferred this season from Valley Center he said it was all worth it.
“My first essay in English class I wrote all about that experience last year,” he said. “I told myself in that essay I wouldn’t be happy until I took a step over that second place spot. I didn’t just do it; going undefeated was never really a goal, but 50-0 doesn’t seem real. I guess I left it undisputed that I was the best.”
Haas is one of the most promising wrestlers in Kansas. He hurt his knee and finished third at state last year; it was his only loss. He came back this year wanting two things: beat Salina Central’s Taylon Peters, who beat him at state; and capture his first title. He did both after beating Goddard senior Cayden Atkins with a 4-2 decision.
Haas said that championship feeling is what he has been dreaming of most.
“Last year was a learning experience,” he said. “I had to learn how to take that loss. In all honesty, I think it was a good thing that it happened.”
No new champs
Newton can boast something only the likes of Goddard and Arkansas City can.
The Railers have a pair of back-to-back state champions after junior Grant Treaster won at 120 pounds in Class 5A and senior Wyatt Hendrickson finished an illustrious career with a 220-pound title.
Hendrickson, one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in Kansas, was only a half point behind Goddard 170-pound senior Troy Fisher for the most team points accounted for at 29.
He capped it in a way that surprised even him, pinning St. James Academy junior Cade Lautt in the first period. Lautt got caught, and Hendrickson stuck him.
“It caught me off guard,” he said. “I really expected it to go the full three periods. He’s such a good opponent. I have so much respect for him.”
Treaster made family history Saturday, topping his brother’s one state title. He will have a chance to make Newton history next year with a third.
”I get compared to (my brother) a lot,” he said. “You see his name up on the state wall every day, so you always have that in the back of your mind. Now I’ve got (coach Tommy) Edgmon to look up to with the three-peat.”
Meet the Robinsons
Arkansas City senior Montez Robinson continued the family name Saturday.
He earned a 2-1 decision over Goddard sophomore Nolan Craine in the 152-pound Class 5A championship bout. He finishes his career as a three-time title-winner. A Robinson has won an individual title each of the past five years.
Robinson finished a 43-5 season with the victory and celebrated atop the podium by putting three fingers to the floor while holding his bracket.
He was one of two Bulldogs to win state championships, joining fellow senior Gabe Buckbee at 132 pounds. Together, they helped Ark City to a second-place finish in Class 5A with eight state-placers.
Must be the hair
McPherson senior Scott Radke was already one of the most recognizable wrestlers in Kansas before he had a medal around his neck.
Radke’s long, bushy brown hair is hard to miss, and his 160-pound Class 5A bout was, too. He beat Goddard junior Trevor Dopps 3-1 by getting a takedown with about two seconds left.
He took his shot, got in on Dopps’ leg and flipped him over. Radke said it was an unbelievable feeling having lost to him a week earlier at the regional tournament.
“It might have been an upset on paper, but I knew in my heart and my head that I knew I could beat him,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t beat him, I would always be left disappointed and that I could never make that back up.”
Radke finished his senior season 40-2.
Winfield had six state placers and two champions in route to a runner-up team finish in Class 4A.
The Vikings finished 12.5 points behind Marysville. Senior headliner Owen Braungardt capped one of the best seasons in Kansas with a 37-3 record and a state title at 182 pounds after a 4-1 decision over Burlington’s Brett Bober.
Sophomore Braden Ledford was Winfield’s other champion. He won the 113-pound bracket and sealed a 36-9 season with a 2-1 decision over Abilene junior William Stroda. He earned a takedown in the first minute of the first period and held on.
Winfield had six state placers, including its pair of title winners. Braungardt finishes his career with two state trips and a pair of state title bout appearances.
Clearwater senior Darryl Rylant lost one time this season.
Rylant capped a remarkable career with a 145-pound Class 4A state title victory over Frontenac senior Mason Jameson with a 4-1 decision. He was Clearwater’s lone state placer.
Rylant was dominant in his state tournament run, earning a first period pin, a pair of major decisions and a state title. He finished his season at 42-1 after coming fourth at state last year and runner-up in 2017.
He finishes his career as a four-time state qualifier, four-time state placer and two-time champion, winning as a freshman.
Serratos wins for Andale
Andale sophomore Hector Serratos was the only semifinalist at his weight whose first round bout was left to a decision.
Serratos beat Augusta senior Gabe Fox 9-4. Despite a somewhat shaky start, he caught fire and won the Class 4A 120-pound state championship Saturday in Salina. He was Andale’s lone title winner.
Serratos beat Mulvane’s Chadwick Stahl 7-5 after earning a takedown in the final minute to go up three points. A week earlier, Serratos faced Stahl at Andale’s regional tournament. He lost 11-7 in the regional final.
With the win, Serratos finished his sophomore season at 31-8. He failed to get out of the first round at state last year.