Big picture bright for Bobcats
Basehor-Linwood wrestling coach Scott Neil remarked to his team near the end of the season that this was one of the worst years of his tenure based on record.
But the record didn't capture the improvement that the young Bobcats made.
The BLHS team was made up primarily of freshman and sophomores, causing distinct disadvantages in size and experience. The young Bobcats fought through a tough beginning of the season to show signs that the future of the program may be bright.
"We talk about getting over those freshman jitters and competing with the best in the state and not worrying about records," Neil said.
Junior Andrew Stueckemann embodied that sentiment. Stueckemann joined wrestling this season in order to stay in shape for football. As a novice, he was beginning on an even lower level of experience than his freshman teammates.
"For me, my record isn't very good but I felt that I grew a lot in wrestling," Stueckemann said. "I feel like I will be a stronger wrestler next year."
State-qualifying freshman Martin Buck was relieved when informed that Stueckemann plans to return for his senior year.
"Everybody on the team improved a lot," Buck said. "Andrew Stueckemann improved a lot, personally. From the first to last match he did so much better."
Stueckemann's ascension as a wrestler had him go from beginner to third-place finisher at the league meet at Mill Valley near the season's conclusion.
"I think when I first came into wrestling, I was brand-new and I got my butt beat," Stueckemann said. "I have learned from it, and especially at the end of the season I started winning."
Arguably the best achievement that the young team attained this year was sending two freshmen to the state tournament. Joe Johnson battled back from multiple illnesses to join Buck at state.
Did the two freshmen qualifying for state prove the program made strides over the course of the season?
"Yeah, it was good, but Neil said it is the lowest he had ever had," Buck said. "As long as everyone works together, we will be fine. (Our teammates) will see that we went, and they will want to go, so everyone should work that much harder."
Neil has made a focused effort to beef up the schedule since being named the BLHS wrestling coach. When he arrived, the team frequently faced the same rotation as smaller schools. Now the team hosts one of the premier tournaments in the state and routinely travels to other top-notch events.
This season the schedule may have provided an opportunity for the young wrestlers to gain experience against the elite. It also was tough on the individual records of the BLHS wrestlers.
Because of the team's youth, at times BLHS had to send wrestlers giving 20 pounds or more to their competition. The most egregious example may have been Zach Wilson, who fought as a heavyweight at 220 pounds. Austin Schoepflin had a similarly difficult road, weighing 82-pounds and wrestling in the 103-pound weight class.
"They really fought hard," Buck said. "That is really tough."
Austin Call also made strides.
"He didn't look like a real good wrestler last year, but he showed us a lot this year, he improved a lot," Buck said. "He could be a state qualifier next year."
Buck, meanwhile, was halted from his postseason training after tearing cartilage between his ribs during club wrestling. He said he thought he first injured it during state, but that it didn't appear serious.
"I was wrestling (at Kid's Club) and I heard a pop, and I went to the emergency room," Buck said. "They said I would be done for awhile."
Buck wasn't able to initially roll over while sleeping because of the intense pain. He will not be able to perform most of his weight-lifting routine while recuperating, which he expects to take a month and a half.
Buck will forgive the recovery time. He had quite a season.
"I think it went real good," Buck said. "My goal was to go to state. I really wanted to place. The kid from Santa Fe Trail (Chase Wells) that got fourth, I had already beat him twice this year.
"What Neil said to me was the big difference between us is that he can go out against anyone and not care who it is and just want to beat him. He is mentally tougher than I am. I think I can get over that."
Buck is in a unique position to be a team leader as a sophomore.
"I could have done a little better job leading at tournaments with getting the team together," Buck said. "That is something I will work on for next year. If I saw something that someone could work on, I tried to help them out. I like helping other people out."
Buck believes the teams goals going into next season should be to send more than two wrestlers to the state tournament.
"I think we are going to do really well next year," he said. "We are going to have a lot of sophomores, apparently we have good freshmen coming up. We will have seniors. There will be a lot of good wrestlers that have experience. I think we will do well."