By Austin Keal for Sports in Kansas
Following the conclusion of 2022 state tournament, Mill Valley head coach Travis Keal announced his retirement from coaching wrestling. Travis started the Mill Valley program when the school opened in 2000 and has since built one of the top programs in the state.
Throughout his time coaching, he became well respected not just in the Kansas wrestling community, but across the entire country. Growing up I basically lived in the Mill Valley wrestling program. I got to witness Coach Keal engrain key values into the program that Mill Valley came to be known for. We were known for pushing the pace, hustling back to the center, staying in good position, and just being all around tough.
When putting on the Mill Valley singlet you were expected to go out and fight every time, no matter what. Coach Keal’s expectations went beyond the mat. You were expected to be successful everywhere, especially the classroom. Through the years Coach Keal has added 57 wrestlers to the Academic All-State team and won the 2020 6A Academic State Championship.
The Story (2000-2009)
Starting a program from scratch proved to be very challenging. It was not until 2003 when Mill Valley had its first state placer. Coach Keal spent his time establishing a foundation for the program. We didn’t have the best wrestlers, but we made sure we had the toughest. These early years are when the ideas of hard work and fight were engrained into the programs core. During this time, they saw a little success with 13 state placers, including five finalists. In 2009 signs of real success started to appear.
In 2009 Mill Valley won its first Kaw Valley League Title. Then a couple weeks later they crowned their first state champion while picking up the school’s first top 10 finishat the state tournament. The hard work of Coach Keal was beginning to pay off and the future was looking bright for the Mill Valley program.
After tasting success, Coach Keal began putting in the work to ensure it would be continued. He began traveling all over the country, attending as many camps and clinics as possible. He also became a crucial member of the Kansas national team staff. During this time period Mill Valley won three consecutive 5A Regional Titles from 2014 to 2016. They also won four consecutive Kaw Valley League Titles from 2013 to 2016. The team finished in the top 10 at state four times during this period and picked up its first team trophies, finishing third in both 2015 and 2016.
Over this period Mill Valley had 29 state placers with 8 finalists and another state champion. Although the team was seeing success, I remember him being torn apart inside after watching his athletes fall short of achieving their goal of winning a state championship.
During this time the program had an abundance of talent. Coach Keal decided he was going to train his wrestlers to be the best in the country. We would travel the country not only for competition, but even practices. I remember leaving school early to drive 4.5 hours to Oklahoma for a two-hour practice. Then we were back for school the next day.
Every aspect of the program was centered around the best wrestlers on the team. While this meant some people got left behind, many stuck around and improved drastically. Coach Keal produced multiple state placers who started their careers on JV.
This approach saw immediate results, as the program entered its best era yet. The program won regional titles in 2018, 2020, and 2021. They finished in top 10 at the state tournament every year, only falling out of the top 5 twice.
Mill Valley had 37 state medalists, including 14 finalists. Coach Keal was finally able to get his wrestlers over the final hump, as 9 of these 14 finalists were crowned State Champions. To this day Mill Valley has had a state finalist and placed in the top 10 every year since 2014.
Legacy Aside from his wrestling achievements, Coach Keal has produced great young men. Coach Keal’s athletes have gone on to attend some of the country’s best schools and achieve great things. Multiple athletes have gone on to attend Military Academies and Ivy league Schools.
Coach Keal’s athletes continue to do remarkable things such as become pilots, engineers, police officers, even winning NCAA Football national titles. Many Mill Valley wrestling alumni have become successful wrestling coaches as well.
Many people think that being a dad and a coach is a challenging thing. However, I think he played these roles perfectly. I still remember coming home from youth tournaments and him watching my brother and I’s matches that my mom recorded. After I placed at youth state the first time, I remember him walking me out of the arena, so he could let a tear run down his face.
Making him proud was one of the best feelings I ever experienced. Being this invested into my brother and I was not always easy. I could see the struggle he felt every time my brother or I did not achieve our goals. He is responsible for my love of the sport of wrestling and to this day is my biggest fan. Everything I do is to make him proud.
Career Stats Head Coach- Mill Valley 2000-2022 Head Coach- Desoto 1997-2000 Volunteer Assistant- Leon Bluestem 1996-1997 –
51 League Champions – 56 Regional Champions – 11 State Champions – 68 State Placers – 11 All Americans – 57 Academic All-StateState team members – 2020 6A State Champions – 2020 6A Academic State Champions –
State Placements – 2021- 3 rd 5A – 2018 4th 5A – 2017 4th 5A – 2016 3rd 5A – 2015 3rd 5A – 7 Regional Championships – 5 League Team Championships – KWCA Coach of the Year: 2015, 2018, 2020 – Regional Coach of the Year: 2006, 2014-2016, 2020-2021 – KCA Coach of the Year: 2011, 2020 – NFHS Sectional Coach of the year: 2011, 2020 – Kansas Officials Coach of the year: 2010, 2017, 2020