By CONOR NICHOLL
Dodge City head wrestling coach Tate Lowe served as an assistant for Red Demon wrestling for six years under Lars Lueders, his college roommate. Lowe, a Valley Center graduate, also was an assistant football coach for Comanche Middle School in Dodge, along with DCHS.
Then, Lowe became the Valley Center head wrestling coach. In May 2019, Lueders took over at Bishop Carroll, and called Lowe about returning to Dodge City. Lowe greatly enjoyed his time in Dodge and was aware of the infrastructure, including throughout the community and in the middle school.
In 2020, Dodge City qualified one wrestler to the inaugural girls’ state tournament when Autumn Perez finished sixth at 143 pounds. Last season, the Red Demons made a huge improvement to fourth place in 5-6A with 69 points, just five away from second. DC had seven girls in the top-eight, and Perez was the lone senior.
Ariana De La Rosa finished fourth at 120, Ashley Arroyo was state runner-up at 155, and Jolette Almaraz delivered a fourth place showing at 170. This winter, Dodge City has no seniors – and is ranked No. 1 in 5-6A by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. Lowe earned regional wrestling coach of the year for both the boys and girls.
DC, Wichita North and two-time defending state champion Washburn Rural are expected to have a close race for the 5-6A state title on Wednesday and Thursday at the Hartman Arena in Park City. Rural is undefeated this season, including handily winning a major Iowa tournament.
At the Wichita North regional on Feb. 12, Dodge City defeated Wichita North, 179.5-142.5. DC qualified 10 to the state tournament. At the large Jan. 21 Nickerson tournament, North edged Dodge City, 212-204. De La Rosa, Arroyo and Almaraz delivered regional titles.
“Our girls are constantly showing improvement, and they are a group of girls that they want to get better,” Lowe said. “They love wrestling, and it’s easy to coach them, because they are asking questions. They are doing all the right things.”
Lowe immediately gave “a lot of credit” to the middle school program. Nearly all the Dodge City qualifiers went throughout the middle school wrestling. Plus, DC has robust middle school clubs, along with the Dodge City Wrestling Academy. Dane Edwards, now the head Hutchinson High wrestling coach, helped build the program at Comanche Middle School. Tony Rich has served seven years at Dodge City Middle School. He was the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association middle school coach of the year in 2019.
Overall, the Western Athletic Conference, which also has Garden City, Hays High, Great Bend and Liberal, has done well in girls’ wrestling. GC took third at state last winter and had a solid 2020 showing. GB has senior Bre Ridgeway, the all-time leader in career wins for Kansas girl wrestlers. HHS features junior Sarah Zimmerman, ranked first at 109 in 5-6A. This winter, the WAC sanctioned the first-ever girls’ wrestling middle school season.
Dodge City has around 40 girls involved in wrestling through two middle schools.
“We were out in front of it all with some people that we had in place at our middle school level that really got these girls interested in wrestling,” Lowe said. “So we have a lot of young girls that have wrestling experience.”
DC has three freshmen who qualified: Jessica Rivera (24-8) at 101, Ashley Alonso (28-10) at 109, and Hailey Ramos (29-6) at 132. Plus, four sophomores are headed to state: Denys Ochoa (16-13) at 120, De La Rosa (28-3) at 126, Dayanara Garcia (23-9) at 138, and Valeria Hernandez (18-13) at 143.
“I am extremely happy for them, more than anything, to have that success,” Lowe said.
Ochoa started wrestling in high school.
“She is just an awesome kid with a big heart, and wants to improve quite a bit,” Lowe said. “She’s a competitor, and that’s one thing about all our girls, is they are competitors. They just love to compete.”
The three juniors are Arroyo (30-5) at 155, Almaraz (25-3) at 170, and Sindy Guiterrez (11-9) at 235. De La Rosa and Ramos were the top-ranked DC wrestlers at third entering the regional tournament. De La Rosa, whom Lowe called a natural athlete, had to compete against boys in middle school.
“We are fortunate in Dodge City,” Lowe said. “Dodge City is kind of a hard-nosed town where we have tough kids, and they gravitate toward wrestling, the same way with the females. And we’ve already had an established boys’ program, and we have had one for several years. Wrestling is known in Dodge City. Now we’ve just added girls in, so there was interest right away.”
Lowe called the Dodge City strength and conditioning staff “amazing.” That’s helped DC improve. Particularly, Guiterrez was 3-9 last season. Ochoa was not on varsity as a freshman. All the girls are in weight classes.
“Across our board, our girls are athletic,” Lowe said. “And you can tell that they are strong.”
Additionally, Dodge City boys have enjoyed an excellent season and are ranked second in 6A, as of Feb. 22. DC is headlined by junior 170-pounder Luke Barker and 132-pound senior Damian Mendez, both No. 1 in 6A. Mendez has two state titles, Barker one.
Mendez, perhaps Kansas’ best wrestler in any classification, was the regional wrestler of the year and stands at 41-0. DC qualified 12 for boys’ state, held this Friday and Saturday. Mendez is the new Kansas single season takedown record holder. Last week, Mendez committed to Division I North Dakota State, which competes in the Big 12 for wrestling. DC took third at state the last two seasons. (more on DC boys later this week).
“Arianna and Jolette have probably been our most consistent,” Lowe said of the girls’ team. “Ashley has tried some different stuff throughout the year, and now I feel like we are getting back to where we were a year ago with just kind of our basic stuff, and it’s just good to have that experience, especially with girls’ wrestling being so young, having girls get that early success, and then other girls are feeding off of that, knowing that ‘Hey, they have done it, I can do it.’”