Offseason work paying dividends for Holton wrestlers once again
While it would be easy for a team with as much recent success as the Holton High School wrestling squad to rest on its laurels, the Wildcats have done anything but that the past few summers.
After earning trophies (two firsts and a third in 2015) at the Class 4A state tournament the past three seasons, the HHS wrestlers have been hard at work again this summer.
“The offseason, anymore, is critical to the athlete’s development as far as technique and experience,” Holton coach Cullen Jackson said.
In addition to the state hardware, Holton has also gone on to claim the team title in Topeka’s TOP City wrestling league in four of the past five summers, illustrating their attitude and commitment regarding that offseason groundwork.
According to Jackson, this summer may be the best in recent memory as far as athletes buying in, which is saying something. On top of the summer wrestling league and the team camp, Jackson noted the HHS wrestlers have the opportunity to take part in a traveling camp as well as the opportunity to come into the wrestling room for open sessions 12 weeks out of the summer.
It is the latter avenue that Jackson said he encourages the most because of how advantageous it can be on an individual level.
“Those give kids an opportunity to work on things they really want to excel at the next season that might not be a part of our package as far as our system goes,” Jackson said.
Since he has been in Holton, Jackson said this summer may be the best he’s had as far as attendance for the open sessions.
Of course, the team camp provides plenty of opportunities to progress as well before the athletes dive back into the high school season. This year, Jackson believes the wrestlers got a lot more out of it with HHS alumnus and Wayland Baptist University wrestling coach Aaron Meister serving as camp clinician.
“It’s always been important to me to get our alumni in front of our kids, so they can kind of see what a successful person can take from our program and into their real life,” Jackson said. “Bringing those college guys in is key to getting our guys excited about continuing their education and moving on, getting out of Holton and seeing a little bit of the world.”
While the work the wrestlers put in during the summer is important, Jackson also knows the whole process can take its toll on athletes. To alleviate some of the stress and pressure, the coach started to put on a “Showdown at sundown” the last few years as a finale for the camp.
There is a competitive side to the exhibition matches held on the football field for the event, but Jackson also believes it acts as a sort-of calm before the storm of the hectic high school sports season.
“Wrestling can be a grind and it can really wear on a guy, so we try to do several things that lighten it up, just keep our guys’ minds fresh and have some fun. That’s what that event’s all about,” Jackson said.
It is meant to be a positive bow with which to wrap up the offseason work the wrestlers have put in over the course of the summer and it has been especially crucial for the younger wrestlers.
Holton saw another strong senior class graduate this past spring, including collegiate wrestlers Mason Baum (Baker) and Lucas Lovvorn (Wyoming), and will have a small senior class leading the team this coming season.
Seniors Justin Pool and Justin Rieschick (along with junior Tyler Price) have plenty of varsity experience, but the inexperienced freshmen like Jackson Martin, Parker Gilliland, Kaden Watkins and Cael Jackson could end up being the key to the Wildcats’ continued success.
Jackson noted those wrestlers may not be where they need to yet, but they certainly closed the gap over the summer.
“Those guys in that freshman group really did a lot to make strides towards improvement,” Jackson said.
Given the team’s body of work both in and out of season the last few years, Holton appears to be in good shape once again heading into 2015-2016. While football and cross country season will come first for most of Jackson’s athletes, he is confident they will pick up right where they left off in the winter and is hoping they bring some momentum along with them.
“Wrestling, it’s like riding a bike. When they show back up for us, it’s going to take a week or two to get their feet back under them, but they’re going to retain most of what they’ve done,” Jackson said. “We just want them to stay healthy. We want them to compete hard in the fall and show up with an excited mindset and be excited about where they’re at when they show up in November.”