After winning its second straight Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship two weeks ago, the wrestling team heads to the regionals, looking to follow up a tournament that head coach Ron Headlee thought was “one of the best performances that I’ve been a part of” last year.
After winning seven in a row the first day last year, and then sending a couple of guys to the final who lost their respective match despite possibly making it to nationals – it was still one of the best team performance Headlee had ever seen.
“Overall it was probably one of the best days we’ve had of wrestling that I’ve been a part of,” said Headlee. “Guys just [got it done in pressure matches].”
This year has the potential to be even better.
With wrestlers such as sophomore Ken Burrs in the 197-pound weight class, junior Jake Evans at 285 pounds and senior Tristian Buxton at 125 pounds, there is opportunity to send at least three wrestlers to nationals. With three key wrestlers having the potential to make it to nationals, Headlee feels that the relative closeness of nationals this year in Cleveland, Ohio, will help bring more support.
“[It’s] just guys reaching for their goal,” said Headlee. “We need to have three or four wrestlers in Cleveland wrestling, and their team coming out to support them.”
Headlee feels that Burrs, Evans and Buxton can set the example for the rest of the team.
“[Burrs, Evans and Buxton] wrestled really well at PAC’s, they’ve been wrestling well all year, and I think they’re leaders for the team,” said Headlee. “Hopefully other guys just pick up on that and go to regionals and give themselves a chance to win.”
Both Burrs and Buxton fell just outside the top three, placing fourth in their weight classes last year at regionals. Headlee feels that both men are anxious to avenge falling short last year.
“[Buxton] and [Burrs] both lost in ‘the blood round’ to go to nationals,” said Headlee. “I know they’re both hungry, they want to get there and show they can perform at that level.”
This year also brings a change in region for the wrestling team as they went from the Mideast to the Central region. Headlee knows it will be different seeing wrestlers from teams that they usually do not compete against.
“We’ll see some teams that we’ve never seen during the year, where last year I think we [previously] saw every team at least one time,” said Headlee. “So [there will be] some new opponents that we might not know much about in going into wrestling them.”
Some other key wrestlers to watch, according to Headlee, are freshman Josh Kuslock at 133 pounds, freshman 149-pounder RJ Hall, Freshman Caleb Baxter at 174 pounds and sophomore Zack Mackall 157 pounds.
Despite coming off the PAC title, Headlee isn’t concerned about a letdown.
“I think it’s kind of nice that we have two weeks [between PAC’s and regionals],” said Headlee. “Sometimes you’re worried about that feeling haveing a [week off] … Our guys have higher goals than just winning the PAC’s. They want to place in the national tournament. That’s one of the things we stress is [the national tournament] is what we are striving for.”
Regionals begin on Feb. 23 and continue through the 24th in Crawfordsville, Indiana.