GARRETT – The Garrett wrestling team finally won a long-coveted Class 2A division championship at the IHSWCA Team State Duals meet at the Coliseum on Jan. 2.
That's one trophy raised and four more to go if the Garrett wrestling team is to accomplish its lofty goals for the season.
Garrett will host the NECC Tournament on Saturday, a date that was moved up so that if the worst-case scenario came to pass and wrestlers were exposed to COVID during the conference meet, they would finish a two-week quarantine in time for the sectional tournament on Jan. 30.
The confident Railroaders are hoping to repeat as sectional and regional champs after winning both titles for the first time last season, in both cases ending long winning streaks by Carroll.
And this year, Garrett hopes to keep the championships rolling in through semistate.
All that ambition starts with coach Nick Kraus.
“I told them, in the past, I said, 'I really feel like we can the finals, we could win this.' That's not the thought this year. We're gonna win this. Flat out, we're going to win,” Kraus said when recounting his team's preparation for the team state championship. “And that's really how I felt. I knew what everybody's lineup was at full strength, and I knew what ours was. I just knew that if we went out and did what we're supposed to do, we were going to get it done.
“They surprised me, though. We won some of those matches by a little more than I thought we would.”
In two of the three previous years, the Railroaders had made it to the Class 2A finals at Team State, only to lose by a hair in the final match of the day – the kind of crushing loss that sticks with a team. And that's why flipping the tables on powerhouse Bellmont this year to win 43-11 felt so good.
“Those first two times, we came up second. It was tough for all of us, even the coaches. But this year finally capturing it meant a lot. It meant a lot,” said senior Kane McCormack, who won all three of his matches at 126 pounds. He said the runner-up finish at least year's Team State was one of his most valuable experiences in wrestling because “it puts a little motivation in you to work a little bit harder to be that top team in the 2A rankings.”
As they demonstrated by winning the sectional and regional titles last season, Class 2A Garrett can hold its own against bigger schools such as Carroll, at least locally. But even so, Kraus said the IHSWCA's team state championship offers an opportunity that the IHSAA tournament cannot.
“This is our only chance to win a state tournament, realistically. In order to win the IHSAA's championship, it's not a format that benefits small schools, your bigger schools are going to dominate that,” Kraus said. “What the team state tournament used to be was that the top two teams out of sectionals would advance and wrestle at the team regionals. That's cool, we could have made that and done that a few times. But then when you get past that, it's only going to be the big schools, just by sheer numbers.
“So this is the ninth or 10th that they've done (IHSWCA Team State), and I can tell you right now that every coach in the state takes it very seriously.”
But even though Garrett will have to compete with larger schools as the IHSAA state tournament progresses, the Railroader wrestlers relish the opportunity make noise on the big stage.
“Last year's results kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, because we knew that we had the guys, but just certain things didn't go the way we wanted to go. So this year we made a point to make sure that we didn't have anything holding us back from our goals,” said senior Seth VanWagner (220 pounds), who said he takes pleasure in pulling off things that no one expects from “little old Garrett.”
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Jay County
When: 6 p.m., Jan. 22
Where: Huntington North
When: 9 a.m., Jan. 23
When: 9 a.m., Jan. 23