By CONOR NICHOLL
Last season, coronavirus restrictions reshaped the landscape for postseason wrestling. In all previous years, the top-16 qualified for the state tournament from the regional. Last year, Kansas changed to three rounds of the postseason: regional, sub-state and state.
The state tournament marked the top-four from each sub-state, or eight total for state. Perhaps no team was more affected than Hoisington girls, which competed in the 4-1A sub-state at Ellis. Last winter, the Cardinals had five girls in the final 16. Normally, those 16 would have competed at the state meet. Instead, just two of those advanced to the final eight.
Sheena Gocela earned second at 101, and Emily Lovett third at 120. Kiana Grandclair, Tally Wikum and Lyrica Orosco all took fifth at 115, 138 and 143. Grandclair finished 12-9, Wikum was 27-4, and Orosco finished 11-15. Particularly, Wikum was a top-flite wrestler. As a freshman, she went 22-8 and qualified for the inaugural all-classes KSHSAA state women’s tournament.
“Anytime, I don’t care what year it is, it’s always tough to not see your kids reach some of their goals,” longtime Hoisington coach Dan Schmidt told SIK this week. “A lot of our kids, their goals were to get there.”
While Orosco pulled an upset to finish fifth, Grandclair and Wikum were part of elite weight classes. Of the four wrestlers that finished ahead of Grandclair at sub-state, three finished first, third and sixth at state.
The four in front of Wikum, also elite in national rodeo, went 1-2-4-5 at state. Schmidt said Wikum beat four girls multiple times that were on the podium, though they were typically close wins. Hoisington, like many girls’ teams, repetitively faced the same opponents during the regular and postseason series.
The Cardinals eventually finished in 22nd place with 21 points at the state meet in Salina. However, Hoisington was just six points out of 11th. Top-eight was 32 points. Gocela (22-9) and Lovett (22-10) each took fourth at state.
“One thing that hurt us a little bit we thought last year was you started to see the same kids over and over,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes that weighs heavy on the side of the kid that’s the under horse. Certainly for us, it really came to a head at sub-state.”
A year later, wrestling has returned to its normal format with the top-16 (four from each regional) qualifying for state. This Saturday, girls’ wrestling has four regionals in 5-6A at Spring Hill, Topeka Seaman, Washburn Rural and Wichita North. Plus, the four 4-1A regionals are at Baldwin, Chanute, Whitewater-Remington and Colby, which features the western half, including Hoisington.
Top-10 in 5/6A via the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association is: Wichita North, Dodge City, two-time state champion Washburn Rural, Derby, Olathe North, Gardner-Edgerton, Great Bend, Garden City, Emporia and Shawnee Heights.
The 4-1A rankings are defending runner-up Pratt, Wellington, Lakin, Burlington, Hoisington, Chapman, Rossville, Eureka, Mulvane and returning state champion Baldwin. However, Hoisington has moved up in the rankings, including a bump from seventh in the Feb. 1 poll. Girls wrestling numbers continue to jump.
This year, numbers have leaped 66 percent in the last two years, including national statistics. Kansas has around 1,500 girls in wrestling representing 178 schools. Schmidt said the numbers “support” moving to four classes like the boys starting next year: 6A, 5A, 4A, 3-2-1A. This season, Hoisington has not faced as many of the same opponents as ’20-21.
State comes Feb. 23-24 at Hartman Arena in Park City, and 4-1A at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina.
Hoisington is potentially in the mix for a top-3 and team plaque at state – and possibly a higher finish. At the Central Kansas League meet, the Cardinals won with 99 points, 11 more than Pratt, on Jan. 18. Three days later, Hoisington finished third at the Nickerson girls’ tournament with 181 points. Wichita North had 212, Dodge City 204, and Pratt delivered 139. Schmidt said the performance “gave us a lot of confidence” against “just unbelievable competition.”
Compared to last season, Hoisington has not seen Oakley as often. Hosington has seen Lakin and Atwood, though not faced Colby. All those squads will be regionals.
“You are just trying to get matches for your kids,” Schmidt said. “…We have seen Wichita North more than we have seen most of the teams out west. We have seen Dodge numerous times this year, we have seen Great Bend a couple times. We have seen Pratt three times this year. We have seen the teams that are at the top, or ranked at the top of those classes, and we seem to hold our own when we wrestle against those people.”
Schmidt noted that Pratt’s elite wrestlers could help the Greenbacks score higher at bigger meets. Plus, Pratt had some COVID-19 issues and missed key 101-pounder Lilly Herrman and 109-pounder Daisy Herrman at conference.
After the Jan. 29 tournament, Herrman stood at 15-6. Jadyn Thompson is 30-1 at 120, Keimarla Thompson was 14-0 at 132, two-time state champion Livia Swift is 29-2, and Ava Thompson stands 29-0 at 191.
“Some of those teams haven’t been able to put their best team forward, and that’s certainly happened for Pratt,” Schmidt said.
Herrman is ranked fifth, both Jadyn and Keimarla Thompson are second, while Swift and Ava Thompson are first. For Hoisington, Gocela is third at 101, Lovett fifth at 120 and Wikum second at 138. Wikum trails only Hoxie senior Marissa Porsch, who has one loss this winter and has reached 100 career wins. Schmidt labeled Porsch certainly “one of the better wrestlers in any class.”
After the Nickerson tournament, Gocela, a sophomore, stood at 15-2. Freshman Paige Schwartz is 17-6 at 115. Grandclair, a junior, stands 15-10 at 120. The lone senior, Lovett is 20-6 at 126. Sophomore Daijah Jones is 16-8 at 132. Wikum, a junior, is undefeated at 15-0. Orosco, a sophomore, carries a 9-4 mark.
“Any time you can beat Pratt’s girls, you feel pretty good about yourself,” Schmidt said. “Because they are truly deserving of where they are ranked, and that’s no fluke that they are ranked No. 1. They certainly, the bigger the tournament gets probably, the more that’s going to come to reality, just how good they are.”
Gocela, a legitimate state contender, competed in middle school wrestling.
“She is very talented athletically, so that helps out a lot. Last year, she was undersized, she weighed about 90, 95 pounds most of the season,” Schmidt said. “This year, we have had to watch her weight to get her down to 101, and so that helps having that little extra power behind us.
“There is a lot of kids that have gotten a lot better from last year,” he added. “…We think she does a really, really good job, and we know there’s a couple of really outstanding girls. We are hoping to move up on the rung.”
While Porsch is a significant state favorite, she and Wikum have not faced this season. Porsch took Lawrence Free State’s Madyson Gray to a 4-0 decision. Gray had posted undefeated back-to-back state titles and had beaten every opponent by fall.
Wikum faced Porsch in an exhibition last winter. Wikum has had limited matches, though earned a high quality fall against Ellis’ Kaydawn Haag on Dec. 11. Haag is a defending state runner-up. Schmidt called Porsch “absolutely the real deal.”
“Just like every sport, it gets razor thin at the top, and you have got to have your ‘A’ game,” Schmidt said.
Lovett is Hoisington’s longest current tenured wrestler, boy or girl. She is one of few remaining wrestlers who competed at the 2019 unofficial state tournament in McPherson, the last competition before KSHSAA sanctioned.
Lovett competed in the 113B division a 1-2 state record, 9-8 overall. Her two losses came versus Burlington’s E’owynn Codney by a third-period fall and a 2-1 decision versus Wichita North’s Dialeen French. Codney recently cleared 100 career victories and is ranked fourth in 4-1A at 109. French captured a state title last winter.
“She’s just an unbelievable kid,” Schmidt said. “You couldn’t ask for a better kid to have in your program. Man, every day brings it. Just that kid on your team, it’s going to hurt like crazy when you don’t have her back. She has just been that kind of kid. She is not just a great wrestler, a great person.”
Last winter, Grandclair came down with significant sickness and didn’t get cleared until the day of the postseason. She has been part of the team the last three winters.
“The girl that kind of gets overlooked a little bit that is pretty solid and again is capable of beating anybody on a given night is Kiana Grandclair,” Schmidt said.
Jones missed last season because she transferred to Colorado before she returned. Orosco suffered an ACL injury right after wrestling ended last winter. She wasn’t released until Christmas and hasn’t had a lot of mat time. This weekend, though, Hoisington could qualify seven-plus wrestlers to state – a year after COVID-19 helped wrench several Cardinals from a state appearance.