Wrestling sets expectations high, introduces girls team

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

Manhattan High wrestling is expecting a big season this year, with eight returning starters out of 14 places — four of which are returning state qualifiers — on the boys side, and the first designated girls team competing this season. 

Last winter was a rough one for the team. Wrestling during the height of COVID-19 came with strict regulations and lower participation rates, as well as a revised state wrestling qualification system that limited the amount of boys who could qualify. Manhattan finished 11th at state, not making the top 10 for the first time since 2009. 

They are turning a page in 2021, with increased numbers on the girls and boys side.

“Early numbers are pushing 80 boys and 20 to 30 girls,” head coach Shawn Bammes said. “So I’ll have a lot more in the room this year, and obviously we got our returners. Some weights we’re not sure yet that will have to figure itself out.”

The boys have a strong 2022 class with four four-year Varsity starters — seniors Easton Taylor, Blaisen Bammes, Janzten Borge and Tucker Brunner — returning to the mat and other big names expected to enter starting positions. 

“That middle of our lineup to the end is going to be really strong this year,” Taylor said. “And I’m hoping we all do really [well].”

The girls team has increased tenfold, in part due to KSHSAA’s mandate that girls and boys have separate competition that is officially starting this year after a phase in period starting in 2019. The girls will have their own practices and competitions, sometimes competing at the same meets as the boys and sometimes traveling to different places, and other simple things like uniforms that are made for girls to wear.

“Until this year, wrestling was coed, so girls and boys would wrestle together and that was fine, but having a girls team is just so empowering,” junior Ameerah Alfailakawi said. “I think it also makes it more of an even ground for us to wrestle people of equal abilities. A lot of the guys, they’ve been wrestling since they were really young and for girls, that wasn’t always [the case]…  because up until recently, it was a new sport for girls to get into. So it allows people equal standing.”

Right now, Bammes is stepping in as head coach after Gonzales’s retirement for both the girls and boys team. They hope to hire a female coach to help with the girls’ side of things but are struggling to find applicants.

The first official practice is on Nov. 15 and their first meet will be a dual against Great Bend on Dec. 2 for both teams.

“The goal every year is to go win it,” Bammes said.  “That’s always our goal here with this program and that doesn’t change. We’re excited about the numbers. We’re excited about the girls team… we added Mason Wallace to our coaching staff, ex Manhattan high wrestler and we’re excited about that. Just a lot of good things happening.”