The Fort Campbell High School Falcons wrestling team begins its season Saturday at the F.J. Reitz High School Hill Classic in Evansville, Indiana.
Fourteen wrestlers return to the team this year, along with several new athletes, bringing the roster to 35.
“The season really started Feb. 21 [when] we got back from the state tournament,” said Anthony Shingler, head coach of the wrestling team. “They pretty much put a whole other season in during the off season.”
Last year the team was very young, with only three athletes having experience in wrestling, Shingler said. There was a big learning curve Falcons wrestlers had to overcome, but they came to practice every day and are hungry to compete, he said.
“We finished just one win under 500 for duals and we took five kids to state,” Shingler said.
Returning Falcons, sophomore Ethan Tomerlin and juniors Justin Wilson and Jesus Avila, each made it to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association State Wrestling Tournament Feb. 16 and 17 in Lexington, Kentucky.
“I want to make it to state again, but I want to be on the medal stand this year,” Tomerlin said. “Last year I fell short a little bit.”
Tomerlin was the only Falcon to compete in the second day of the state tournament last season. He won two matches and lost two. He plans to return to state and place at least eighth.
To prepare for the 2018-2019 season, Tomerlin is working on cardio to become stronger and quicker on the mat.
“I was not as fit as I could have been. That is what I am focusing on more this year to get my technique a little bit smoother,” Tomerlin said.
Having wrestled for years, Tomerlin gives advice and tips on technique and ways to escape during a match to other wrestlers –especially the ones new to the team.
Tyler Mackay, a junior at FCHS, joined the team two months ago on Tomerlin’s suggestion.
“I just want to be the best I can and learn the concept of wrestling,” Mackay said.
Mackay said wrestling requires him to be more conditioned than playing football on the Falcons team, so he does cardio with Tomerlin and comes to every wrestling practice.
“I just come every day to learn everything new,” Mackay said.
Mackay’s overall goal is to qualify for the state championship by the end of the season, but if he can master wrestling that is good enough for him.
Jasmine Ward, a senior at FCHS, plans to make it to the state championship this year and win the girls state title. She was injured during a meet last season causing her to end the season early. “I broke my humerus bone and my left arm, but they healed completely,” Ward said.
She said she needs to work on remembering how to run moves and how to finish them. To meet the goal Ward comes to practice every day and works hard.
“Originally I started wrestling because I needed another sport to add to my chain. I enjoy it because the team is good and the coaches actually care. I learned that I am actually good at it,” Ward said.
Ward hopes to improve on her strength because she has trouble pinning her opponent down on the mat.
Shingler said his goal is to take more than five Falcon wrestlers to state this year and to have a winning record for duals.
“I would like to see some kids back on the podium,” Shingler said.
Shingler said all 14 wrestlers returning are top grapplers for the Falcons. Three Falcons are ranked in the top 20 in the state for their weight classes, according to the kentuckywrestling.com preseason listing.
In the 170-pound weight class, Tomerlin is ranked fifth in state and second overall in Region 1 for the preseason, according to the website. In the 195-pound weight class, Avila is ranked 15th in state and second in the region. Royar is ranked 17th overall in state and fifth in the region in the 120-pound weight class.
Shingler said Ward also is a leader for the team because she does not back down.
“We’ve got some others who I expect some big things out of who are returners from last year. They put a lot of work in the spring and summer so we will see where we are at,” Shingler said.
The team’s unity is contagious and the wrestlers want to be around each other, Shingler said, adding he likes how tight the group is.
“It is exciting to come to practice and have 25-35 kids here every day who are willing to work and want to work hard. At the end of the day they want to be successful,” he said.
The team’s first home match is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday against Clarksville Northeast, Clarksville Academy and Henderson County at FCHS gym.