PARK CITY — Six Junction City wrestlers qualified for state last weekend and on Saturday, three of those became state medalists. Freshman Zeke Witt and sophomore Kayden Blake both finished fourth in their weight classes and senior CJ Neuman finished fifth.
While the goal for the Blue Jays going in was for all six wrestlers to finish the day as state medalists, Junction City had a rough first round, only winning one of their six quarterfinal matches, setting the Blue Jays up for a long day on the mat.
“It was a tough day and a tough tournament,” head coach Tyler Gonzales said. “When you look back and reflect on it we had a tough schedule. I would put our schedule up with anyone else. And when we got into the postseason, three weeks in a row was just tough. Not just on our guys either as I look at the teams who we wrestle at regionals like Manhattan, Lawrence-Free State and Derby, we all just kind of beat up on each other and after a while that kind of takes a toll.”
The lone win for the Blue Jays in that quarterfinal round came from Witt. The freshman Witt took down Olathe-North’s Casin Lawrence, a sophomore who came into the tournament with just three losses, by a 3-1 decision. That win ran him headlong into Washburn Rural freshman Jonathan Morrison, the eventual state champion at 106-pounds and Morrison pinned Witt in 1:15 seconds sending him to the consolation semifinals.
Witt got a 9-1 major decision win over Lawrence freshman Andrew Honas which set up a third-place match with Lawrence-Free State sophomore Nolan Bradley. Bradley got the best of Witt, grabbing a 12-2 major decision win, dropping Witt to fourth overall.
Blake had an even tougher path than Witt to his fourth-place finish after dropping his opening round match to Olathe-North freshman Jacob Vasquez by a 6-2 decision. Blake then rattled off two wins in a row, both by point. That set up a rematch with Vasquez in the third-place game, where Blake lost 4-0 to end his day.
Neuman was the last placer for Junction City. After letting a 4-2 decision loss slip away to Olathe-North sophomore Alec Samuelson, the senior dug down deep and rebounded with an 11-2 major decision win over Dodge City junior Rudy Hernandez which guaranteed him a medal.
Neuman faced Olathe-South’s Johnny Cash Thomas in the consolation semifinal but fell in a close 4-2 match. In his final match of his high school career, he took on Manhattan junior Blaisen Bammes and got a pin in 2:39.
“The one thing I am proud of our kids about is their effort,” Gonzales said. “They wrestled hard no matter what. I tell them all the time that if they can look at themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that they wrestled with 100 percent effort, then I can live with the results. We don’t like losing but that’s fine, we don’t have to like the result but we can live with the fact that we tried our hardest.”
The other three qualifiers ran into a string of rough luck in their 0-2 showings. Freshman Griffin Bohanan ran into two seniors in the most competitive weight-class in wrestling (152-pounds) and junior Judah Peterson faced a junior with just one loss in the quarterfinal and then a senior in Olathe-North’s Carter Lahmeyer who pinned Peterson in 3:46.
Lastly, senior Isaiah Zinkan came in as one of the other sub-state championship runner-ups along with Neuman but fell victim to two pins, one by Olathe-Northwest sophomore Lucas Conover in 3:13 and one by Dodge City sophomore Roman Loya in 2:32.
“You feel for a senior like Isaiah Zinkan who comes in and goes 0-2,” Gonzales said. “But to put that in perspective, he’s in the top eight in the state in Class 6A and to get here wasn’t easy for him. I hope that our other two guys who went 0-2, Griffin and Judah, keep that in mind as well.”
While the results from Saturday, despite a few high points, were, on the whole, disappointing for the Blue Jays the future remains very bright. Four of the six state qualifiers will be back next season for Junction City and 10 of the 12 sub-state qualifiers will also return including several wrestlers who qualified for state last season but missed out this season.
“It’s not easy to get here and we can’t take it for granted and assume that we’re going to be here next year,” Gonzales said. “We have to put in the work and earn the opportunity to get back here next year.”