In wrestling in the state of Kentucky, Union County is and has been the standard for a long time, but Christian County is hoping that’s all about to change.
The Colonels are sending 11 athletes to the KHSAA State Wrestling Tournament and while the Braves are taking 13, CCHS coach Robert Burnham knows what the odds are.
Burnham said they’ll have to wrestle perfect or get some help from the rest of the state to dethrone Union County.
“Anything’s possible but I think it’s more likely we’ll wrestle perfect than Union goes down,” he said.
The Braves have won the last four state championships and six of the last seven overall.
“They are an extremely talented group,” Burnham said. “They’ve been there before, experience matters. Yes, there are some places that because of the way the brackets are set up, some of that talent in the rest of the state is stacked against them.”
The Colonels are sending five seniors this year, including returning state champion Jakerion Merritt at 145 pounds. Merritt is the top-ranked wrestler in his class and at 32-0, knows what he needs to do to get back to the mountaintop.
Fellow senior Niko Bussell finished runner-up in his class a year ago and is ready to make the jump to the top of the podium.
Cameron Coleman, Ethan Wells and Neal Aldridge make up the other three Colonel seniors and Burnham said it’s important to focus on themselves.
“We can only do what we can do,” he said. “We can only control our kids. Our kids understand what they’re going to have to do to reach the point they want to reach. Five seniors, they all know this is it, this is the last hooray for them. Of those five seniors, three have never been on the podium so they’re going to be that much hungrier which means we’re going to have to wrestle that much better.”
Christian County has been ranked second in the state all season but they’ve also been second in Region One.
Burnham said despite how good the region is, there are still some good wrestlers across the state ready to make a statement.
“Region One is the king of the hill right now but that doesn’t mean the rest of the state doesn’t have kids that are going to challenge Union County,” he said.
For the Hopkinsville Tigers, second-year coach Scott Seaman is sending four to Lexington.
Seaman said he had a simple message for his squad.
“Wrestle your match one at a time,” he said. “Three of them are seniors and wrestle to the best of your ability because this is your last ride. Don’t give in to any pressure … Be ready to take it a match at a time, six minutes at a time and leave everything out there.”
Zlatko Skuljan, Kevonni Young and Denarius “Red” Barnes are the three seniors for the Tigers but they’re also taking along a freshman in TruShaun Matt at 106 pounds.
Seaman said he had a slightly different message for Matt.
“I said the only difference for you is that it’s the end of your season,” he said was his message. “Since this is his first time, it’s easier to be nervous because it’s the biggest tournament of the year. We just talked about getting your mindset right, keep out distractions and be ready to go.”
For his three seniors, Seaman said it’s important to focus on the little things as sometimes when athletes are on the big stage, the slightest mishap could derail everything.
“We have to keep their mindset right and wrestle to the best of their ability,” he said. “Try not to expose your back or anything like that. Sometimes some of our guys like to do a roll or something and expose themselves and get stuck. Just fundamentals and wrestle to the best of your ability.”
The Trigg County Wildcats are sending two wrestlers in Colin Stevens (170) and freshman Andrew Hendricks (220).
Stevens has been climbing the podium his last couple of years and he said it’s time to get a state title.
Stevens opens his weekend with Fern Creek’s Abdul Adahmov and with a record of 39-2, Stevens is one of the favorites at 170 pounds.
Jesus Avila is the lone Fort Campbell Falcon heading to Lexington as he takes on DeSales’ Chandler Miller in today’s first round. Avila enters the match at 24-10 while his opponent is a perfect 48-0 this season.
Local first-round matches
106: JaRi Campbell v Troy Gardner (Ashland Blazer)
113: Gage Fowler v Field Johnson (DeSales)
126: Ethan Wells v Luke Oliveros (South Oldham)
138: Austin Grant-Hall v Owen Stacey (Campbell County)
145: Jakerion Merrit v Caileb Hills (Meade County)
160: Neal Aldridge v Hayden Hartlage (DeSales)
170: JT Adams v Everett Marret (St. Xavier)
182: Cameron Coleman v Austin Silva (John Hardin)
195: AJ Harvey v Ryan Martin (Trinity)
220: Niko Bussell v James Branscome (Anderson County)
285: TyDarius Kelly v. Kyran Jackson (Madison Central)
106: TruShaun Matt v Hayden Canady (Perry County Central)
152: Kevonni Young v Matthew Hendricks (Bullitt East)
160: Zlatko Skuljan v Brandon Burchett (Fairdale)
220: Denarius Barnes v Blake Young (Oldham County)
170: Colin Stevens v Abdul Adahmov (Fern Creek)
220: Andrew Hendricks v Casey Rauch (Campbell County)
195: Jesus Avila v Chandler Miller (DeSales)