The first leg of the Knox wrestling team’s post-season is over with, as the team returned from the NWA Conference Tournament with mixed success, and a good head of steam heading into the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Tournament coming up this weekend. The team finished in fifth place at Conference, with five placing winners; freshman Danny Stafford and junior Marty Dertz placed second, senior Captain Luke Karner, junior Aaron Barnett, and senior Greg Leibach placed fourth. Going in comparatively shorthanded against other, larger squads, the team pulled off an admirable level of success, scoring points where they could, and doing what they could at all turns to win.
“We definitely had a tough final round and lost some very close matches,” said Karner. “Still, we had a very successful day and are all very proud of how we performed.”
It seemed that, even with the absence of the dominating Jaran Rutledge, the team was able to pull through and make a respectable showing, and prove that even when the senior leaves for bigger things, they will be able to soldier on, and continue to face other opponents with skill and gumption.
As has been the story of the team pretty much the whole season, on several occasions wrestlers made a few steps up in the main bracket, lost, but then picked up ground in the consolation rounds. Karner was able to make a name for himself this weekend, by going to the finals of the consolatory matches, as well as Barnett and Leibach. Besides them, no wrestler from Knox lost in the first round, all making it at to least the semi-finals before being knocked out, or going on to defeat further opponents.
With regionals coming up this weekend, many on the team are facing the end of what has been a long road of hard work. The hustle has not stopped yet though, as the team looks to give its all once again.
“We’ve spent this week fine tuning small things in our game plan and are getting ready for a strong tournament this weekend,” said Karner, pointing out this as the only technique to get them through this weekend, pointing to the bevy of tough competitors they will be facing.
“With the competition at the regional, we are going to have to be ready for a fight, there are not going to be any easy matches,” Karner said.
As the Great Lakes Division is home to some of the best wrestlers in the country, the team is in for a true challenge. Karner, along with the other seniors on the team, will be going into what could be his last match in collegiate wrestling, as well as the other younger wrestlers seeing their final tournament.
“For many of us this will conclude our season,” he said, “but we are ready to give our all and leave it all out on the mat.”
The importance of the regionals on the team, especially the younger men on the team, is something to be prominent in everyone’s mind.
“This is the first regional match of my college career,” said freshman Edel Vaca in an earlier interview. “Just the experience is needed for me to really understand what its all about. Its exciting.”
The team is ready for whatever comes at it, and with the return of Rutledge, some damage can, and will, be made at regionals.