Archive for Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Anatomy of a champion

March 6, 2002

Nearly two weeks after earning it, Matt Dukes' state championship medal sits alone in his bedroom at home.

To the right of his bed, on the desk between his door and television, the cookie-sized medal sits as a reminder of what Dukes accomplished this season.

The funny thing about the medal is Dukes doesn't even need to see it to be reminded of the state championship he won in the 145-pound weight class two Sundays ago. But every time he does, the moment comes rushing back.

"It all flashes back in my brain when I see the medal," Dukes said with a glowing smile. "I see the medal every day, so I'm reminded of it every day."

And that's just fine with him. From the time he turned 5 years old, Dukes wanted to be a wrestler. After spending years in Dean Sheets' kids wrestling program in Linwood, Dukes was finally able to compete at the high school level. While a state championship was a goal of his from the beginning, it didn't materialize as quickly as many people thought it might.

"I went my freshman and sophomore year of high school without placing at state," Dukes said. "Then my junior year, I got second and now the state title this year. It came, just like I knew it would, but it just took a little more time to develop."

While the dream took time to develop, Dukes was able to develop as well.

Basehor-Linwood wrestling coach Scott Neil said Dukes isn't the most technical wrestler. Dukes' way of wrestling is a brawling style, but most of the time he has been able to out-brawl his opponents to victory.

In the early part of his career, Dukes used to get beat because he wasn't aggressive and he didn't force guys to wrestle his style of match. As he grew older, he realized he wanted to be the one who dictated what happened on the mat, so he began to get more aggressive and with that increased aggression came an increased win total as well.

Neil said Dukes' more aggressive style usually worked out in his favor over the past couple of seasons, but occasionally he would get caught being too aggressive.

"There is a drawback to Matt's style of wrestling," Neil said. "Either Matt catches his opponent and pins him, or Matt gets caught and pinned. Usually, and thankfully, Matt has been the one with his hand raised at the end of the match."

During his state championship season, Dukes had his hand raised in all but one of his 34 matches. In his four-year career at BLHS, Dukes won 90 matches and lost 15.

In those four years, he fought through injuries, illnesses and a few other obstacles. But he did so with one goal in mind to win state. Now that he has achieved that goal, Dukes said having it sink in more and more each day makes all of the bumps and bruises along the way worth it.

"It's really starting to sink in," Dukes said. "Sometimes I'll be watching tapes of myself and feel like I still have state coming up. But then I'll see my state championship bracket that's hanging behind my TV and I'll realize I've already won. I love that feeling."

If the bracket doesn't convince him, he just has to take a few steps over to his desk for a glance at the medal.

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