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City wrestling powers Rural, Heights thrive in tough times



The 2020-21 high school wrestling season will be remembered for all the COVID-19-related obstacles teams have had to overcome and the adjustment they've had to make just to have the opportunity to compete.

But Washburn Rural coach Damon Parker and Shawnee Heights coach Chad Parks will also remember the year for the way their teams have handled every challenge they've faced while putting together outstanding seasons.

Damon ParkerDamon Parker's Washburn Rural boys and girls wrestling teams are both top-ranked in the state heading into postseason.

Parker's Junior Blues swept the girls and boys Centennial League team titles and both teams are currently ranked No. 1 in Class 6A by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association while Parks' T-Birds swept the United Kansas Conference crowns and Heights' girls are ranked No. 6 in Division I and the boys No. 7 in 5A.

Now the Junior Blues and T-Birds will be looking to add an exclamation mark to their seasons in the extended postseason, which gets under way this weekend for 5A and 6A boys teams and Division I girls teams.

"They've done a great job of taking everything in stride,'' Parker said of his Junior Blues. "They have followed our COVID protocols to a T, and to this point we have had no issues whatsoever. I'm proud of them for weathering the minor inconveniences for the greater good of our team and society as a whole, all the while keeping their focus on making their daily improvements no matter what the circumstances.

Parks agreed.

"COVID-19 has certainly created challenges in athletics for the 20-21 season,'' he said. "That said, our SHHS athletes have been champions in going with the flow and controlling the controllables. They have stayed focused in their training, made adjustments when needed, and have fought hard to stay on the mats.

"Life is full of battles and wrestlers are created for battle. We are proud of our athletes and grateful for the opportunity to compete in a sport we love.''

Parks and Parker said they have tried to make sure their teams have maintained a positive additude throughout the trying times.

"PMA, positive mental attitude is part of our team culture,'' Parks said. "That has been big this year, but really no more than normal. We also talk about gratitude, effort, and toughness, aka GET, on a consistent basis.

"This has been a contributing factor to keeping everyone in a good state of mind through all this COVID craziness. I really feel there is an extra level of gratitude in all of our athletes this season. They realize it’s a major blessing to compete and they are not taking it for granted.'' 

Said Parker:

"We've always been about accentuating the positive here at Washburn Rural. We wouldn't let something like a worldwide pandemic get in the way of that. We still play spikeball, blast the music, have fun and get after it every day in the mat room. Watching this room wrestle live has been an absolute joy; it's been like watching a collegiate team practice.

"As coaches, we're trying to sniff the roses at every opportunity because this is a pretty special squad, and even I know that ain't something you can find just around the corner.''

Now Washburn Rural and Shawnee Heights are set to lead Shawnee County teams into regional competition Friday and Saturday.

Washburn Rural's boys team, second in the 6A state tournament a year ago, will compete in a regional Friday at Wichita Southeast, while Shawnee Heights and Seaman will compete in Friday's 5A boys tournament at Leavenworth and Hayden will take part in a 4A boys regional at Jefferson West.

Hayden kicked off its postseason bid last weekend in district competition and qualified seven wrestlers for regionals, led by senior district champions Will DeVader (182 pounds) and Clayton Stephenson (220).

The top four finishers in each of the boys regionals will advance to sub-state tournaments, with the 6A sub-state at Wichita Heights, the 5A tourney at De Soto and the 4A sub-state at Chanute.

Washburn Rural senior Bishop Murray and junior Jacob Tangpricha are defending 6A state champions and are ranked No. 1 by the KWCA at 120 and 113 pounds while senior Bowan Murray (138), junior Austin Fager (170) and senior David Huckstep (285) are second-ranked in 6A.

Shawnee Heights junior Caden Walker is No. 2 in 5A at 160 pounds.

Rural, Shawnee Heights and Seaman's girls teams will compete in Saturday's Division I regional at Emporia, with the top four finishers advancing to sub-state competition at Wichita Heights. The Junior Blues captured the girls state championship last season.

Washburn Rural senior Rebekah Smith is top-ranked in Division I at 155 pounds while Shawnee Heights junior Maranda Bell is No. 1 at 191.

Seaman junior Rylee Murray is No. 2 at 115 pounds, while Rural sophomore Addison Broxterman is second-ranked at 120 and junior Jaliah Johnson No. 2 at 170.

Parks said that while he knows Friday's and Saturday's regionals will be tough tests, he's confident that his teams are ready to go.

"As coaches, we always question ourselves and wonder if we have done enough to prepare our athletes and have them ready for the state series,'' Parks said. "But, just like we ask of them, we must trust the system and then let them fly. Our girls and boys have been working their hearts out and the coaching staff has been pouring everything they have into the athletes.

"So in a thorough evaluation of where we are right now, I think our wrestlers are where they need to be going into the post-season competition series.''

Like most teams, Parker said his Rural teams have been fighting injuries, but said he is eager for the postseason to get under way.

"We're banged up, but everyone's banged up at this point in the season,'' Parker said. "What's important is that our mindset is right. I've never seen a more focused and mentally prepared squad from 106 up to 285. We've still got some polishing to do, but we're ahead of the curve for where we normally are at this point in the season.''

Silver Lake's boys won five individual titles and had 11 wrestlers post top-four finishes to qualify for regional competition en route to winning last Saturday's 3A-1A district title at Silver Lake, while runner-up Rossville had three individual winners and nine regional qualifiers.

Silver Lake got district wins from junior Justin Rakestraw (132), senior Kai Allen (138), junior Daigan Kruger (170), junior Triston VandeVelde (182) and junior Preston Gillen (195) pounds, while Rossville got district wins from freshman Mason Broce (106), senior Layne Hurla (145) and junior Sam Twombly (152)

Senior Grace Fitzgerald (120) and freshman Hailey Horton (155) won district titles to lead Silver Lake to the team title in Friday's Division II Girls District Tournament at Marysville, while Rossville freshman Keera Lacock (115) also won a district championship.

The top four finishers in 3A-1A regional tournaments will move on to sub-state, with the boys tournament at Marion and the girls tourney at Anderson County.