BLOOMINGTON – When most teams finish a rebuilding season, athletes and coaches look to see how much improvement was made in what was usually a subpar season.
This season’s Vandalia wrestling squad wasn’t like most teams.
Wrestling without four individuals who made the 2012 individual state tournament, the Vandals turned to several young, inexperienced athletes to fill the holes in their lineup.
“Coming in, I was hoping to be respectable,” said coach Jason Clay, “but we did more than that.”
The Vandals shook off some early defeats and a lot of lineup shuffling on the way to becoming the 15th team in school history to make the team state tournament.
And while they were just two points from being the first team since 2007 to pick up a win at state, the strides that the team made in the second half of the season will undoubtedly be beneficial in the next couple of seasons.
“We have a lot of wrestling left in the future, and I want us to get better,” Clay said. “I’ll take the kids I have every day of the week, because they are good kids who work hard.”
Among the 14 wrestlers who had at least 16 matches this season, 10 of them are either freshmen or sophomores, and those 10 accounted for 60 percent of Vandalia’s 354 individual victories and 183 pins this season.
Two of them made the individual state tournament, and all but four had a winning record.
“They have grown a lot mentally, as far as toughness,” Clay said. “Most guys may come in with some physical tools, but aren’t very mentally tough.
“There’s not a lot in society that makes kids mentally tough, so you push and push and push until they break, then you build them back up.”
Five freshmen – Chaston Womack (106), Luke Tessman (120), Bobby Bradley (170), Koten Etcheson (220) and Kendrick Woolsey (285) – were in this season’s lineup at the state tournament, as were five sophomores.
Combine those 10 with the return of junior C.J. Runkel, who missed the season due to injury, and Blake Cripe, a sophomore who missed the second half, along with juniors Tyler Dagen and Rodney Tedrick, and the Vandals will have a squad with a good chance to make state.
“Only eight teams get (to state), and four get a trophy,” Clay said. “We’ll set our goals high in the offseason, and try to build off of this.”