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109 W. Fourth St. - P.O. Box 311 - Holton, Kansas 66436 - 785-364-3141
Everyone has their good luck charms. For some, it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot. For others, it could be a four-leaf clover. For the Holton wrestling team, after capturing its second straight state title on Saturday, it might be something as simple as tape.
After last year’s state title, HHS coach Cullen Jackson noted the team took some of the tape used to secure the championship mat and stuck it to the back of the team’s trophy as a type of memento. Following Saturday’s title, which was all but wrapped up heading into the medal rounds, the team took some more of the sticky stuff as another reminder.
Lucas Lovvorn, the Wildcats’ lone individual champion, also fastened some of the adhesive to the back of his championship bracket, considering the junior will have another shot at a state title next season.
While Lovvorn admits he is already setting his sights on that goal, he wasn’t quick to pass up the chance to celebrate his accomplishments over this weekend.
“It feels great. It’s always been a dream of mine to win a state title,” Lovvorn said. “I never got it done in kids (federated wrestling). I guess now’s the time to do it.”
Going into the championship round, Lovvorn was set to face a familiar opponent as it turned into a rematch of the regional finals in Holton with the Wildcat wrestler going up against Tongnoxie’s Asher Huseman.
While it took a late near fall for Lovvorn to secure the regional title, he left no doubt in his state championship victory. After an early takedown, Lovvorn controlled the match from the start and added an escape and a takedown in the final period to win by 5-0 decision.
“I think I just really wrestled my best match of the year right there and that’s what I needed to do,” Lovvorn said.
Beyond that, Lovvorn had his best tournament of the season in Salina, if not the best tournament of any state champion, as he dominated his bracket from the opening round.
“Lucas had a great tournament. I don’t know if very many people realize this, but he didn’t give up a single point the whole tournament. No one scored on him so when you think of that, that’s impressive. That doesn’t happen very often,” Jackson said. “For him to have that kind of performance all weekend long is just a testament to his dedication to the sport and everything that he’s done leading up to state.”
Two more Wildcats made the championship round, with seniors Andrew Rieschick and Cooper Zeller both wrestling for individual state titles as well. Both had their opportunities, but some key momentum swings were the difference in their runner-up finishes.
Zeller started off with a bang, getting an early takedown and near fall against his rival from Jeff West, Justin Scott. However, Scott escaped and got a quick takedown himself before pinning Zeller for the state title.
Meanwhile, Rieschick’s championship match came down to a decision and while he and Columbus’s Taylor Watkins were tied going into the final period, it was a missed takedown at the end of the second period that might have been the deciding factor.
“That was probably the big turning point in the match. I had gained the momentum and then the tide turned,” Rieschick said.
Just getting to that point was quite the accomplishment, though, as Rieschick eked out a 3-2 win by decision in his semifinal match, while Zeller won 5-1 in overtime.
Rieschick said a “now or never” mentality really drove him to make it into the championship finals and Jackson said that is something both wrestlers should be proud of after the tournament.
“Both those guys had tremendous seasons and tremendous careers for us. We’re going to miss them. We’re going to miss the wins that they’ve racked up over the years,” Jackson said. “They’re going to be tough to replace, but they had a great season to be proud of and for us to get another team championship for them to go out with is something that hopefully they’ll remember forever.”
“I’m really proud of our group,” Rieschick added. “I think we’ve worked really hard over the years to get to this moment.”
Having three state finalists was a great way to start the first day of the tournament, but Jackson said it’s hard not to think of those wrestlers that just missed out, like senior Jonah Lutz.
After coming close and falling just short of wrestling for his own state title, Jackson said Lutz had a short memory on Saturday and made sure to finish out his career on a positive note.
“Any time that dream is taken from you when you lose in the semis, it’s hard,” Jackson said. “That’s just a testament to his mental fortitude. The fact that he was mentally strong enough to come back and end his career on a win just says how much these kids care about each other and the fact that they don’t want to let their teammates down.”
Going in, though, Jackson said Holton would need six medalists to have a shot at repeating as state champions. The four semifinalists were guaranteed a medal, but the Wildcats needed two of the other eight wrestlers to do some work in the consolation bracket.
Justin Rieschick was one of those medalists, coming in fifth at 138 pounds. Jackson said he knew the sophomore would be mentally strong and have that opportunity, so the key to Holton’s title may have been the performance of junior Mason Baum.
After a loss in the first round of the tournament, Baum had a long road ahead of him in the consolation bracket. He proceeded to trudge right through it and get a key win in the consolation quarterfinals to guarantee himself a medal.
In a match with Ottawa’s Caleb Parenti, Baum erased a 10-1 deficit to come back and win by a 12-11 decision. He then went on to take fifth with a 3-0 decision over Royal Valley’s Chance Ogden.
“We talked about creating memories on Thursday at the pep assembly at school and, boy, he sure did,” Jackson said. “Being down 10-1 in a match to get into the medals and to come all the way back and win was phenomenal. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
This state tournament experience isn’t something the young Wildcats should forget either, as Jackson said it was a good learning experience for the three freshmen who qualified, along with sophomore Justin Pool who Jackson said is just on the edge of medal contention.
Jackson himself was rewarded on Saturday as he was named the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year in Class 4A for the second year in a row. In four short years at the helm of Holton wrestling, Jackson has turned the Wildcats into two-time defending state champions. A shot at a third straight title, with seven state qualifiers returning to the squad next season, is not out of the question either.
While Jackson admits it is great to be able to take the program to such great heights, he is also quick to point back to the kids in the program and what they’ve done to get to this point.
“It’s just a testament to the things they learn from the sport about being mentally tough and sacrificing things for a greater goal down the road. That’s what our kids do and it showed on Saturday,” Jackson said.