GIBSON CITY - It’s been nine months since last season’s fourth place finish at state for the GCMS-F wrestling team.
And while the time certainly flew, the Falcons’ flight into a new season was delayed a month, thanks to the success of the GCMS football team’s deep playoff run.
The crew didn’t see the mat together as an entire unit until the day before their first duals.
“The nice thing was we had some Fisher kids,” head coach Josh Carter said. “They were done, so those guys were able to come in and practice and still lead the way. They set the tone for the rest of the guys. Of course, the caliber of kids that we were missing from the GCMS crew definitely takes away from the intensity in practice, but I thought the kids handled the situation really well. I didn’t feel like they were slacking off or anything like that since we didn’t have everyone.”
Carter gave the football wrestlers an extra week off to recoup once the season ended, and the crew has since been trying to re-establish the remains of the three-time defending regional champions.
“It was good to have everyone back,” Carter said. “The room definitely felt pretty full.”
Luckily, a number of key members return as seniors hoping to complete their high school careers with a regional sweep.
And with the winning experience, the squad is using the same mentality of years past to get it done.
“Going into last year, we knew we could be pretty solid. The main thing was trying to control what we could and not worry about the rest,” Carter said. “I’ll be the first to admit, we were probably not the fourth best team in the state last year. There were a couple other teams that beat us that didn’t get as far, but the way things worked out, the way the draw was, we were able to get the matchups.”
Carter didn’t want to downplay his players’ accomplishments, though.
“Granted, we still beat a very good Shelbyville team to bring home a trophy,” he said. “But (the matchups) were out of our control. I felt like our guys really stepped up no matter who they faced, came together and did a really good job. I think we just have to keep doing that, try to get better each and every practice and meet and learn from our mistakes.”
Lane Williams, Key-Shawn Girkin, Aaron Carter, Conrad Thomas, Jeremy Smolek and Tristan Smith are this year’s seniors.
Williams and Carter were two of last year’s three state qualifiers and hope to build on that success.
For Williams, who didn’t compete at state after dislocating his shoulder, the time couldn’t come fast enough for his return to the mat after watching every match of last year’s state tournament from the side.
“He was begging me to let him wrestle,” Carter said in reference to last year’s state competition. “I didn’t want to put him in that position of needing to step up at state just a few weeks (after injury).”
Girkin returns after upsetting the fourth place individual state medalist to send his Falcons to the team semifinals with his winner-take-all match win.
Girkin, Smolek, and Smith join Williams and Carter as the wrestlers who’ve wrestled all through high school.
“When these guys came in as freshmen, I knew that if they stuck it out they’d be one of the most successful,” Carter said. ““We’ve got some seniors who have been wrestling for three or four years now. They know what to expect, and they’re excited to be in that leadership role to help those young guys along.”
Conrad Thomas was one of the seniors who came in with this class as freshmen but took the last two years off.
In his return, Thomas takes over the 182-pound spot left by fourth-place individual state winner Jacob Franklin.
“He has some big shoes to fill there,” Coach Carter said. “He’s an extremely athletic, tough kid. I’m excited to have him.”
When asked about whether he recruited Thomas back to the team, Carter emphasized his hesitation to recruit anybody.
With the longer schedule of a winter sport, and the commitment of a specific diet, Carter chooses to let players decide how interested they are in wrestling.
“It’s a sport where, if you’re not self-motivated, it’s probably the last sport you want to be in,” Carter joked. “Conrad decided he wanted to do one more year, and I’m really glad he did, because he’s an extremely athletic kid. He’s a little raw, but he’ll pick things up. He’s a quick learner, and he’ll be ready to go once February hits and he’ll hit his stride. He at least had an idea of what he was getting into.”
Levi Davis and Preston Braaten will be key juniors, while sophomore Jacob Horsch managed to advance to sectionals as a freshman last year.
Keep an eye on the development of another sophomore in Alex Rosenbaum, who will see time in the 285-pound weight class alongside Jeremy Smolek.
Sophomore Kyle Patton is a first year wrestler who, like Thomas, possesses some athletic ability that Carter is hoping will reach the next level.
“He’s a really athletic kid and aggressive,” Carter said. “He just has all those things that you want and can’t necessarily teach. I’m excited for him too, because he’s filling a spot where we really didn’t have anybody. He’s a good kid. I think wrestling will be good for him.”
Jared Trantina, who finished second at state last year as a eighth grader, will lead a group of eight freshmen.
Branden Blanck, Hayden Workman and Dakota Matthews round out some key contributors who will look to make a mark this year.
Like years past, Coach Carter expects the middle and upper weight classes to be the team’s strength, thanks, in part, to experience and lack of smaller weight classes.
GCMS-F will be forced to forfeit a couple weight classes right off the bat due a few roster spots going unfilled.
“That puts us in a tough position starting out down 12-0,” Carter said. “But I think we’ve got kids who are capable of coming in and scoring bonus points and stuff like that to help us get back a lead.”
Home sweet home
Due to some shifting and some scheduling conflicts, the Falcons host 10 home matches this year, which doubles their recent average of home matches.
“We’re going to be able to give our fans an opportunity to watch some good wrestling here locally,” Carter said.
As a whole, the goal is much like every year, to be at their peek at the end of the season.
“We always try to wrestle our best in February,” Carter said. “The last few years we’ve been able to do that.”