Wrestling season set to start

Kris Long, Opinions Editor

There are high hopes for the Manhattan High Varsity wrestling team going into this season, with new and experienced wrestlers expected to do well for the team.

“Manhattan’s generally a really good wrestling team,” sophomore Tuelia Ilalio said. “With good athletes I think we could go as far as we want to [this season].”

New Kansas High School Activities Association guidelines have given High School wrestling teams two years — this season and 2020-22 — to create girls-only wrestling team. The hope is that the new guidelines will encourage more girls to participate in the sport and provide more fair competition to those already involved. According to head coach Robert Gonzales, MHS does not yet have an official girls team and they will continue to wrestle the boys this season. However, they are working on generating interest in the sport and currently have three girls out for wrestling. KASHAA will be sponsoring girls-only wrestling tournaments they plan to participate in also. 

“There’s … a barrier when you’re wrestling another guy,” Ilalio said. “It’s just a different feeling than wrestling a girl.”

The team started practicing during the summer, though their pre-season didn’t officially start until August.  They have been practicing twice a week at Combative Sports Center — who allow them to practice free of charge — for the past two months in preparation for the season’s start, which began yesterday. The coaches were not allowed to facilitate practice until the beginning of the season, so it has been entirely self-directed. 

“I’m excited and anxious for [the start of the season],” head coach Robert Gonzales said. “I can’t wait [to start] my 43rd year coaching [and I’m] looking forward to working with another good group of Manhattan student athletes.”

Some returning wrestlers expected to perform for the team this year are seniors Daron and Darious Island-Jones as well as Tate Sauder; junior Damien Ilalio; sophomores Easton Taylor, Tucker Brunner and Blaisen Bammes. A few incoming freshmen are also expected to show out this season, including Jackson Bicandor and Gabe Pride.

“[The incoming freshman] are pretty good that might have a starting spot,” Taylor said. “All they [have] to do is put in hard work.”

Coming off of a stellar 2018-2019 season — in which they placed second at state and won the centennial league for the fourth time in a row —  they hope to do as well if not better than they have previously this season.

“We’re definitely going to have to put a lot of work in, but I believe that if we can put that work in and if we can gather our team and fix it to how we want it to be with incoming freshmen … we definitely have a shot at top three [at state] for sure,” Bammes said. “If we work hard enough, maybe even first.”

The class of 2019 helped win MHS four titles in their four years wrestling for the team, four of the starting wrestlers are currently competing at the college level. Making up for their experience will be a challenge. 

“We lost six outstanding seniors,” Gonzales said. “We have a challenge to replace those six seniors. As of today, and the season starts tomorrow we will have four seniors on the wrestling team… [and we] expect leadership from them.”

The first meet of the season is a dual against Great Bend at Bend on Dec. 5.

“It’s all a process and we’re working on getting to where we need to be,” Bammes said. “And hopefully when that first dual comes we will be [there].”