BHS wrestlers turn in top state finish
It was a record-breaking year for the Baldwin High School wrestling team and the Bulldogs closed it out with a seventh-place finish Saturday at the Class 4A State Wrestling Tournament, the highest ever finish for BHS.
"It was an exciting finish to what was a very fun year," said coach Kit Harris. "We tried not to let our hard work get in the way of having fun this year and also to not let having fun get in the way of our hard work. Both aspects of youth sports are essential."
BHS had a state champion in senior 275-pounder Witt Hinton and a runner-up in 171-pound sophomore Kyle Flory. The Bulldogs also had another sophomore as their other state-medal winner with 140-pounder Derek Lang finishing sixth.
Hinton became BHS's second state champion with Harris' brother, Jay, claiming the other crown in 1987. The two finalists were the most ever for the Bulldogs, as was the three state medalists.
Also qualifying for state were freshman Joe Bonner at 103 pounds, senior Adam Halford (160), junior Seth Halford (189) and junior Dan Hamilton (215). All except S. Halford won at least one match at state. The seven qualifiers were also the highest ever for BHS.
"After all is said and done, I find myself very emotionally overwhelmed with such tremendous pride for the efforts the kids put forth this year and that means the entire team top to bottom," said Harris. "I am one very proud coach."
Hinton's run to the state title started with a 14-0 decision over Logan Mize of Clearwater. He followed that with an 18-2 decision over Chris Perdue of Columbus. Hinton then closed out Friday action with a pin of Daniel Kerr to advance to the finals. There he scored an 8-1 win over Eudora's Shane Grant to claim the crown and finish the season with a 39-5 record with 24 falls.
"This will be a moment in this young man's life that he will never forget," said Harris. "I am very proud of him and happy to have been able to be a part of it."
Flory added to his BHS single-season record total (42-5 with 18 falls) with three victories (6-2 over Pratt's Aaron Riner, 18-3 over Atchison's Jake Wieshaar and 9-4 over Nickerson's Mike Howell) to qualify for the finals. There he met Marysville's Pat Vogelsverg who won 15-7 to remain unbeaten.
"Kyle had a break-through season," he said. "He was a sophomore in a weight class with a lot of juniors and seniors. Despite his youth, he wasn't just happy with being in the finals. He truly wanted to win the whole dang thing.
"He got after it in the finals. Vogelsverg is just a very good wrestler. There is a reason he is an undefeated state champ," said Harris. "But Kyle made him earn it and I think the experience was a great one for him. He knows what it means to compete. A state runner-up as a sophomore is quite an accomplishment."
Harris was also pleased with the state-medal performance by Lang. After a first-round 10-1 loss to eventual state champion Eric Johnson of Norton, Lang put three straight wins together (6-3 over Parsons' Gabe Forbes, 12-4 over Marysville's Mike Bussman and by fall over Columbus' Brian Simpson). He lost his next two matches to end the season with a 35-15 record with 15 falls.
"Derek showed true guts and heart this year," said Harris. "He dropped a weight class and had to show a lot of discipline to do so. It paid off as he not only qualified for state, but also came away with a medal.
"He gives a very consistent and hard-nosed effort each and every match and I think he will just get better and better," he said. "He made great strides this year."
The other qualifiers, their state tourney record and their overall season records were: Bonner, 1-2, 27-16, 16 falls; A. Halford, 2-2, 28-22, 15 falls; S. Halford, 0-2, 12-32, seven falls; and Hamilton, 1-2, 31-11, 24 falls. Harris was happy with their performances, too.
"They all did exactly what we have ever asked every Bulldog wrestler to do they put forth championship efforts," said Harris. "They all made a valiant run at a state medal and I was very proud to be a part of their state experience. They are all winners. Anytime a kid strives to be their best, they have already won and, in the long run, perseverance proves that success cannot stay away."
All of those efforts helped the Bulldogs score 66.5 points, just a half point behind sixth-place Basehor-Linwood. Clay Center won the team title with 104.5 points, followed by Goodland (100), Columbus (95), Colby (77) and Norton (72). Santa Fe Trail finished 18th with 38 points and Eudora was 22nd with 31.
There were many reasons Harris pointed to for the success of this year's record-breaking team. But, he especially gave credit to the leadership provided by the seniors.
"Our leaders were a big part of our success," he said. "They showed strong leadership in the room and out. They would take time to step aside and help out a younger wrestler, give some pointers or offer some support. They will be missed."
Harris also felt it was a team atmosphere that made a big difference.
"I think we had a true team in every sense this year," Harris said. "The guys would pull for each other and cared about the joys and frustrations each team member was having. We rallied around that and had a lot of team success. In sports, especially wrestling, one superstar can't do it all. We had a lot of contributors."
That all played a part in Harris' overall philosophy about the sport.
"I actually don't care all that much about winning," he said. "It is exciting and all, but I care much more about competing and acting like winners and then letting the chips fall where they may. I think we all shared that attitude in the room this year and it helped us have the kind of success we had.
"When we put our focus in the right place, then more often than not things tend to go in our favor and we will most likely end up about where we belong," said Harris. "That mentality helped us take stress and pressure off ourselves, open up, compete and enjoy the whole experience. I always want wrestling to be a positive in these kids' lives, not a negative one full of stress and frustration."