Wrestling in Kansas: “Loves wrestling more than anything” – Family ties yield success for West Elk, Hoxie, Norton, Ellis at Day 1

West Elk’s Creyo Koop is the lone undefeated 3-2-1A wrestler left after Friday’s semifinals. He looks to follow in his Dad’s footsteps.


West Elk’s Creyo Koop follows Dad’s lead, enters finals undefeated

HAYS – Howard-West Elk’s Chad Koop delivered back-to-back state titles in 1995 and ’96. Koop was in the mix for an Olympic berth before he suffered a knee injury. Koop’s wife, Marty, was a standout athlete, especially in basketball. Their daughter, Madelyne, cleared 1,000 career points and signed to play at Tabor College.

This season, the Koop’s son, Creyo, is a West Elk freshman. The Koops build strength through the family farm. They have a practice room in their house and work nightly at least 45 minutes to an hour.

They focus on just technique and moves. Creyo called his dad a “freak” at takedown wrestling. Chad would often take down a wrestler, let them escape, and then take them back down. Chad, though, taught his son not to give points away. Creyo’s biggest strength comes from being on his feet.

“He knew what I needed to be,” Creyo said.

Creyo and 113-pounder Evan Coble were West Elk’s two state qualifiers for the Class 3-2-1A state wrestling championships Friday and Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Creyo, a regional wrestler of the year, advanced to 145-pound state championship. Coble (24-2) is guaranteed a state medal.

The Mid-Continent League is the dominant conference in 3-2-1A wrestling, and Koop defeated a pair of MCL wrestlers in his last two matches. He opened with a 17-4 major decision against St. Marys’ Tug Wilson. Then, he beat Russell’s Jacob Windholz, 4-2, and held off Smith Center’s Alex Wilkinson, 8-3.

Koop improved to 44-0 and bumped its Saturday’s championship against Kingman senior Colby Schreiner. Koop is looking to join his father and Kenny Tyler (’04, 05) as the only Patriot state champions. Shortly after the semifinal match, Koop sat in a chair, covered in sweat, a plug in his nose to stop bleeding.

Koop is the lone undefeated wrestler remaining in the classification.

“Everybody thought that I wouldn’t get here, because I was a freshman,” he said. “… I am just trying to beat every record my dad set, didn’t matter what it is, I try to beat it. And everybody else’s records. I go 110 percent all the time, didn’t matter who it is. I am going at them.”

Koop is one of many wrestlers who achieved a successful Friday with a key family member – father, uncle, cousin, grandfather – who had previously had great success in the sport. That included much of the Hoxie team, the overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions. As well, Norton and Ellis were among those with strong ties.

Paced by two-time state champion Derek Johnson, and the three Bell brothers, Hoxie has tallied 157 points. Douglass is second at 55, Norton third with 52.5. Hoxie, with coach Mike Porsch, has six in the finals: Tate Weimer (113), Carson Ochs (126), Dayton Bell (132), Drew Bell (138), Johnson (160) and Sam Watkins (170).

“I can’t think of anyone else who coaches better,” Drew Bell said of Porsch. “He is my favorite coach that I have ever had. He’s the best coach I have ever had. You know he cares.”

Drew Bell has gone fourth, first, first in three high school seasons and is close to the all-time pins record in Kansas annals. Drew was one of three wrestlers with three pins and by far had the shortest cumulative pin time in 1:47.

“It just feels good as well, we are on track to having another dominating team win,” Dayton said.

Creyo is much stronger than most freshmen. In the fall, Koop rushed for 1,272 yards on the football team. He works on the family farm. Last year, they hauled 50,000 hay squares. His dad gives him the hardest jobs. They build barns and dig fence posts.

“My dad is just trying to make me the best he can be,” Creyo said.

His first year, Creyo wrestled three matches and won kids’ state.

“My dad said, all you need to know is, ‘Before you go to the mat, I want you ready for the toughest guy he puts me against,’” Creyo said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. He knows I can beat him.”

Last April, Creyo competed at the middle school Heartland National Duals in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a major event known for large crowds. Hoxie’s Duncan Bell and Watkins also competed. Koop finished 6-1.

“You felt like it you were bouncing with everybody talking,” Koop said. “It was amazing. The experience here (at Hays) was amazing, too.”

Chad told his son that if could dunk the basketball as a freshman he could play hoops. Creyo can dunk, but “loves wrestling more than anything.”

Instead of generic/team issued headgear, Creyo wears Oklahoma State wrestling head gear. Creyo has a small moustache and bears a striking resemblance to his father when Chad was a high school wrestler. The pair has side-by-side Facebook photos.

“I can use all my skills that he has taught me to win,” Creyo said.

OSU is the premier collegiate wrestling program and just 134 miles away from Howard. Creyo wants to win four high school state titles, become a four-time All-American for the Cowboys and reach the Olympics.

Chad is not a West Elk coach, so isn’t mat side. For the semifinal match, Chad was up top at GMC, which overlooks the mat. Creyo followed his dad’s advice in the semifinals. Creyo took down Wilkinson several times.

“I hear everything he says,” Creyo said.

Buoyed by family tradition, Hoxie, Bell brothers with big Day 1

Ronnie Shipley graduated from Hoxie and captured a state championship in 1994 as a senior. Porsch was coaching kids and junior high in Hoxie at time and still remembers Shipley’s state title run at GMC.

“He stepped it up and wrestled really good when it needed,” Porsch said. “…Kid kind of dropped him on his head and kind of knocked him a little goofy. They probably wouldn’t have let him wrestle today. But he comes back and just wrestles lights out the rest of the tournament. Beats guys that he had never beat.”

His brother-in-law, Dusty Bell competed at Hill City and performed admirably with one full arm. Dusty came close to winning a state title. Dusty has three sons: Dayton, Drew and Duncan. Drew is a senior, Dayton a junior and Duncan freshman. Dayton and coach Porsch both called Dusty Bell a “really tough” wrestler.

Dusty coached his sons in kids’ wrestling.

“We would be drilling certain shots or takedowns in the living room floor for like an hour or so,” Drew said. “And then wanted to be a state champion, because my dad never did it, and Ronnie did. It made us already a wrestling family, so I fit in nicely when we got to high school.”

The infrastructure and tradition for Hoxie is elite. The Indians entered this winter with 86 all-time titles, fourth on the all-time list, according to kansashswrestling.com archives.

Last season, Hoxie, consistently in the top-three at state, won its first state title since 2003 in dominant fashion. Many of the top boy and girls train in the summer with Next Level Wrestling’s Tristan Porsch and Mat Gilliland, who combined to win six state titles at Hoxie. Multiple top Indians wrestle year round. Once the high school season ends, Dayton said they are looking for other tournaments.

“Done a really good job getting us to the next step,” Dayton said of NLW. “Improving our wrestling over the summer, so we are just always looking for improvement.”

The brothers combined for a 7-1 record Friday. The three of them combined for 49 points, which was more than all but two teams.

“A lot of difference,” coach Porsch said. “Duncan is really goofy, and Dayton is pretty quiet, and Drew is pretty quiet, too, but I mean, he’s pretty intense. All great kids. Couldn’t ask for better kids. My whole team really.”

Dayton and Plainville senior Logan Normandin were in the same weight class as freshmen and faced multiple times. Dayton beat him once, and Normandin won the rest of the matches. Dayton wanted a match last winter, though Normandin competed at the weight below.

This year, Normandin started at 126 pounds, and then eventually moved up to 132 with Dayton.

Dayton labeled Normandin “pretty challenging.” Dayton went 3-1 against Normandin, including wins at league, regional and in the semifinals Friday. Dayton, a state runner-up last winter, looked to be “more careful” on his feet and on top. He eventually pinned Normandin in 5 minutes, 30 seconds and improved to 33-9.

“It’s been good,” Drew said. “I get more nervous for his matches than I do mine. … I get more emotional for his, too. If he comes off of a big win, it makes you feel very good.”

Drew stood mat side and congratulated his brother before he sprinted to his mat.

“Made me excited to go out and wrestle,” Drew said.

Then, Drew defeated Rossville’s Colby Hurla by fall in 21 seconds. A two-time state champion, Drew (39-1) won his three matches in 42, 44 and 21 seconds.

“I don’t think game plans,” Drew said. “I just kind of go out and wrestle, what happens happens. I only found out about (the pin record) two weeks ago. It was never really a goal, it was just kind of an added bonus, like possibility that it could happen. But it doesn’t matter too much. It wasn’t a goal at the start of the season.”

Last season at state, Bell was one of five wrestlers who tied with three pins and also had by far the lowest combined time in 1:17. As a sophomore, Bell also had three pin falls at state.

“Try to be like water, like flow from one position to the next very smoothly I guess, to where they don’t know they are on their back until they are on their back,” Bell said.

“Pure will sometimes,” Porsch added. “Pretty determined. He’s just tough. Tough in those chicken wing positions and tough with cradles. But a lot of it is just pure will and determination. I mean, he has been like that since his first match as a freshman.”

At 145, freshman Duncan Bell (33-11) split two matches. The Bell’s little sister, Josie, has won a girls’ state title in Topeka. She won the 110-pound Mid-Continent League middle school tournament this winter.

“It’s been a big inspiration, because I have always wanted to tie him or do better, because he’s just always the one I really look up to,” Dayton said. “And Duncan, he’s a really good wrestler. He did better than I did my freshman year, so it’s great seeing him make it this far.”

Johnson, who had to beat Watkins to win the Junior Cadet state title last May, improved to 39-1 this winter. He, Uniontown’s Bryce Eck and Hill City sophomore Aiden Amrein have been 1-2-3 all season. Johnson has faced Amrein at league and regional and earned 4-2 and 3-0 decisions. They will match up for the championship.

Hoxie junior Derek Johnson and the Indian coaches prepares for Johnson’s semifinal match. (Conor Nicholl/SIK)

Last winter, Eck, also elite in rodeo, became Uniontown’s first-ever state wrestling champion. This year, Eck, a Fort Scott rodeo signing, has been bothered by a shoulder, especially since the second tournament after Christmas. Eck had to injury default against Johnson.

Norton harkens to the past with the “Four Horseman”; Urban with history

In 1962, Norton wrestling had the “Four Horseman,” a moniker given to John Kent, Tim Carroll, Richard Wyatt and Larry Urban. That season, Norton held the all-classes wrestling state championship in its east gym. The quartet all won state titles and a team crown. Multiple times during the years, the “Four Horseman” and other great Bluejay teams from the tradition-rich program were recognized.

Each year, Norton wrestling picks a theme. This winter, Norton qualified four to state and picked the “Four Horseman.”

At 170, Garrett Urban, Larry’s grandson, advanced to his first state championship with a key sudden victory quarterfinal win versus Silver Lake’s Daigan Kruger, and a 10-3 decision versus Jayhawk Linn’s Andres Flores. Afterward, Urban took a picture with a large contingent of teammates, friends and family, including his grandfather. Urban earned his 100th career win and moved to 34-10.

MCL’s Mason Younger, Tanner Sells, Ben Hansen with big performances

Ellis sophomore Mason Younger was an elite kids’ wrestler for many years and picked up a state title. Last season, Younger was ranked throughout the winter before he suffered an injury at practice just before state. Younger couldn’t compete.

Younger comes from a family that loves the sport and is one of the more well-known wrestling families in northwest Kansas. His dad, Aaron, two uncles and three first cousins were all strong wrestlers with multiple state medals. Notably, his cousin, Bryce twice finished second. Mason’s brother Cale finished a solid career this year.

No Younger has won a state title.

This winter, Mason was part of the highly deep 120-pound weight class. He won his Norton regional. In the state quarterfinals, Mason held off Marysville sophomore Gable Frederickson, a returning state champion with a 7-2 decision. In the semifinals, Younger pinned Atwood freshman Ryan Sramek in 2:55.

Younger (26-5) will face Mound City-Jayhawk Linn senior Corbin White (28-3), the defending 106-pound champion, for the state crown.

“A good feeling,” Ellis coach Brandon Pfeifer said. “Especially with the way the season ended last year for him. I know that was a goal for him to try be there four times. …What a blessing it is to have the opportunity to come back and be strong and be healthy and be able to get there again.”

Ellis is currently in sixth with 43 points and has the chance for the best team showing in school history. Seniors George Crawford (160) and Mason Gottschalk (182) are both guaranteed state medals. Junior Jarret Mader remains alive at 138.

“We really have a special group of seniors,” Pfeifer said. “George is a tremendous leader. Never says anything bad to a kid, sticks up for the kids. Always says the right thing, and it rubs off.”

At 152, WaKeeney-Trego senior Tanner Sells moved to 35-6 and into the championship. Sells was ranked fifth entering state. In the first round, he held off Larned sophomore Luke Fischer, 4-0, with a move in the final seconds. Then, Sells defeated Sabetha junior Jonathan Reyner, ranked No. 6, with a 7-2 decision.

Sells and Atwood senior Drew Withington have gone back and forth in multiple matches. Sells, the lone Golden Eagle boy state qualifier, delivered a 2-1 tiebreaker win. Sells is an exceptional all-around person. He has a pilot’s license and wants to be a crop duster.

Last summer, Sells shot 262 straight clay targets and finished third at the USA Clay Target championship. That focus has helped in wrestling. Sells looks to become the first Trego state titlist wrestler since Michael Malay in ’06-07. Malay is currently WaKeeney’s coach.

Plainville senior Ben Hansen delivered a nice run to the 182-pound championship. In the first round, Hansen came back to beat Douglass’ Jace High, who entered 40-0. Hansen won by fall in 5:29. After a 6-0 decision, he beat Ellis’ Gottschalk, 4-2, in sudden victory. Hansen stands at 24-3 and will face No. 1-ranked Matthew Rodriguez from Southeast of Saline.

Hansen had been fourth at the Norton regional, though had beaten Gottschalk, 4-0, for the MCL title.

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