BLHS set to open wrestling season with state aspirations in mind
Another chapter for Basehor-Linwood high school wrestling begins.
As the 2002-03 season starts, the Bobcats are continuing a quest to become a top-notch wrestling program. While head coach Scott Neil said he does not believe they have reached that point, he is eager to kick off the season.
"We're an up and coming wrestling program right now," Neil said. "We are getting better, but I don't think we have reached the pinnacle of success like we can."
The biggest factor slowing BLHS in their race for the top is participation. The team has not attracted a lot of students to come out, Neil said, which creates a couple problems.
If somebody is injured, the Bobcats will have a hard time replacing him. Also, practice becomes tougher with fewer people to wrestler with.
However, with those setbacks, Neil is not worried about his team.
"We're not deep in the numbers, but what we have is quality," Neil said. "If somebody does get hurt we might be behind the eight ball a bit, but we should be OK."
Even though numbers may not be high, expectations are. The Bobcats want to improve on last year's sixth-place finish at the 4A state tournament.
They return four wrestlers that qualified for state last year and two that earned medals. Senior Brandon Buck placed second last year, and junior Cody Bell placed fifth.
"I always look to each year as being state champions, and that is always a goal," Neil said. "Realistically, we have a lot more steps to take to be thinking about that. That's probably a step we don't need to worry about right now.
"I'd really like to qualify eight to 10 kids and crown a couple state champions."
Neil said he expects to finish high in the Kaw Valley League, the regional tournament, and place at least among the top 10 teams at state.
Buck and Bell are two wrestlers with the highest expectations this year.
Buck is ranked first in Kansas in the 152-pound weight class. He worked hard in the weight room this summer, and is stronger than last year. Both he and Neil expect him to win it all.
The expectations for Bell might not be as high, but he has impressed Neil this year.
"Cody has been a totally different kid," Neil said. "His work ethic is great right now. I think he watched (Matt) Dukes win last year, and it's motivated him this year.
"Cody is on a mission this year. He's wrestling inspired."
Neil said he expects other wrestlers to step up this year as well. He said freshmen Zach Davis and Max Norris have potential but lack crucial high school experience.
Neil said seniors Tim Morgan, Brian Fish and Jeff Lackner should increase their productivity. Morgan has twice been one round from winning a medal while Fish and Lackner want to make their first appearances at the state tournament.
Sophomore Craig Bower set a goal to medal at state as well.
Neil said this team is a talented group but its biggest strength is its work ethic.
"It's been four years or so since I have had a group of kids that work this hard," Neil said. "They push each other. They go after it. They've been eating up the hard work that I've given them, so I've been pleased."
The best test for the Bobcats to see if they are ready for state will come in January at the Bobcat Classic. The annual wrestling event at Basehor has become a premier tournament in the state.
"That thing has become such a juggernaut," Neil said. "If you place in that thing, you're doing alright. It's a pretty good indication of how you compare in the state.
"Kids that win state don't win this tournament."
The reputation of the tournament has grown beyond the state boundaries. While teams from all over the state come to the 24-team tournament, a team from Iowa also makes the journey to Basehor.
Last year, 17 of the total 56 eventual state champions competed at the Bobcat Classic. In the 160-pound weight class, the 6A state champion took first, the 4A state champion took second the 5A state champion took third, and the previous year's 5A state champion took fifth.
The tournament is so difficult, Neil said his goal is to finish in the top half as a team.
The Bobcats have some time to prepare for the Bobcat Classic, but their first action was Wednesday, Dec. 4. Results were not available by press time.
They travel to Atchison Saturday, Dec. 7 for a tournament that begins at 9 a.m.