Dukes is king at state
Minutes before Matt Dukes' state championship match last Saturday in Wichita, BLHS wrestling coach Scott Neil said he wasn't worried at all. One look at Dukes warming up in the hallway during the seven matches that preceded his told Neil everything was going to go great.
"Once I saw him warming up in the hallway, I was never in doubt," Neil said. "He was just too focused, he had that Matt Dukes' look on his face and I knew there was no way he was going to lose."
The Matt Dukes look that Neil talked about led the senior to 33 wins this season with just one loss. That lone loss came by way of a disqualification back in January, but on Saturday Dukes more than made up for it, by dominating his way to the 145-pound state title at the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita.
"He was just too much of a man for that weight class," Neil said. "That's not to take anything away from the rest of that group, but Matt was just too much of a man. He was not going to be denied."
That was evident early on.
As the No. 1 seed in the 145-pound bracket, Dukes cruised his way into Saturday's final, winning his first-round match 7-0, his second-round match 12-10 and his semifinal match by fall in the second period.
The championship match might have been the easiest of them all. In a rematch of the 145-pound regional final against Clay Center's Josiah Rush, Dukes nearly pinned Rush in the first period before manhandling him at the start of the second, earning the pin with 1:27 left in the second period.
"This is what I've worked all four years of high school, and really all my life for," Dukes said. "It's the best feeling of my life."
The feeling also overwhelmed Neil, who was at a loss for words when reflecting on his career with Dukes.
"He's my first-ever state champion," Neil said. "That's a hard feeling to explain. Matthew's been such an enjoyable kid to coach and he's really taught me a lot of things along the way. To have his career end like this is just perfect. I really think this is going to make the rest of his year great."
Dukes wasn't the only Bobcat to leave Wichita with a medal, but his first-place finish went a long way in placing the Bobcats sixth in the team standings. Neil said his team's goal was to finish in the top five, but that finishing sixth was about as satisfying.
"Team-wise, I thought we did a good job," Neil said. "It's always nice to walk out of here with some medals and we got a gold, a silver and a fifth. That's great to build on."
Junior Brandon Buck reached the finals, but never seemed to get into his Saturday night match. Neil said he thought Buck was nervous in the spotlight and that prompted him to drop a 7-3 decision to take second place. On his way to the title match Buck was equally as impressive as Dukes, winning three close matches, 6-2, 10-7 and 10-5.
Sophomore Cody Bell was the other Bobcat medalist. His 3-2 record was good enough for fifth place, but Neil said Bell was close to reaching the finals as well.
"Cody was almost there, he almost got to the finals," Neil said. "Overall it was a really good effort by all of our guys."
"Craig Bower was in tears before his second match, because he was so worried that he wasn't going to get any points for the team. He didn't care about the individual stuff, he just wanted to help the team do well. That was the attitude of a bunch of our guys and that will only help us in the future," Neil added.
Bower wound up winning his second match, pinning his opponent in the second round.
Tim Morgan and Matt Gillett each won a match in Wichita as well, to contribute to the team score. And although he went 0-2, Joe Bell wrestled well in a tough 119-pound bracket.
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