Sophomore Justin McPhail attempts a wrestling move on senior Carlos Rodriguez during a quick practice Wednesday afternoon. Daily Leader photo/Jessica Crawford
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
The Redskin wrestling team is currently fighting to place in the state championship in Wichita. However, with a skeleton crew of only two wrestlers competing, both young men will have to prove they are all heart.
Senior Carlos Rodriguez and sophomore Justin McPhail will be accompanied by coach Mike Pewthers to the big show this weekend. Considering the turbulence the team has endured throughout the season, Pewthers couldn’t be more proud of the two athletes.
“We started off pretty good, we ended up winning 13 duels, which I wasn’t sure that we could win many duels at the beginning of the year,” Pewthers said. “We have lost a pretty good group of seniors, we actually lost 13 seniors and nine of those were starters. So, we returned basically four starters and then a few of them had some things they had to take care of and ended up not staying with the team.
“Then I had a little discipline issue,” he explained solemnly. “It was really, really hard. I had to stick with my no-tolerance policy, and it hurt me probably not as bad as some of the kids, but some of them it hurt me as bad or worse. It is just one of those things that you had to do to help kids decide to do what they are suppose to do and what is right. Hopefully, it will influence those guys, and they will be better people and make wiser decisions. If they weren’t a senior, I am allowing them to come back next year.”
Both Rodriguez and McPhail have proved their worth to compete in the state finals, Pewthers said.
“Carlos has been with us for four years,” he said. “He has worked really hard and gotten better each year. He is finally showing what he can do this year and doing real well. He is ranked in the state, I think, fifth or sixth. He has a real good shot in placing in the top three of four in state. He could actually be in the finals. He will have to win a tough match, his second match, but he can do it.
“Justin, as well, last year, he went to state as a freshman at 171 pounds, which is a tough weight for a freshman,” he continued. “He has developed a little bit, worked hard in the weight room and is at 189 this year, and it is a little better weight for him. He has done extremely well. He is 36 and 5, and Carlos is 29 and 10 on the season.”
Prior to Pewthers taking over as head wrestling coach of the Angry Red, the team wasn’t faring so well.
“Before I was the head coach, I was an assistant for several years, I think we placed 27th in state, and then we were ranked 32nd out of 32,” he said. “The next year, when I took over, in 2003, we ended up placing about 15th. We ended up with five guys going to state that year. For three years, we took seven guys to state, and the last three years, we took nine. This year we are down to two.”
Pewthers believes staying power is the only way to maintain a winning team.
“What we need to do is get the freshmen to come in and stick around for four years,” he said. “We have done that in the past, and this group that is juniors and seniors didn’t stick around as well. I guess it was pretty tough in there with the guys that were seniors already. But, if we can build on that, we will get better every year.
“Right now, I have a good group of freshman and sophomores, and they are going to do real well in the next few years,” he added. “Hopefully, the kids that are in eighth grade see that if you come in and spend two years being second string and wrestling a lot of JV matches you get better. Then by the time you are a junior or senior you break into the lineup.”
With only two young men representing the Redskins at the state tournament this year, Pewthers is aware of the limitations, however, his hopes remain high for his athletes.
“You take as many as you can to the regional tournament, we took 12 to regionals last weekend and got two of them through,” he said. “There was about six or seven more of them that won one match, but you have to win a few matches to make it to a state tournament. You have to place in the top four at regionals. Our regionals were the toughest in the state. There were 29 ranked kids in our regional. The other regional that was tough wasn’t near as tough as ours. We had four of the top six ranked teams in our regionals.
“I am real excited about these two guys and their potential,” he said. “Some teams have 10 guys going some have 14, I still think we will do real well. We won’t be the top two teams, it is just not a possibility. But teamwise, with two guys that can go and place, we will do pretty well. One year, in 2007, we took seven guys, and none of them placed. This year, we are taking two guys, and I expect them both to place really high. So, I am pretty excited about it.”
Rodriguez and McPhail couldn’t wait to leave Thursday so they could get on the mat and prove themselves to the State of Kansas.
“We feel great,” Rodriguez said. “We are going to the state championship and that is pretty much what we work for. I think (Pewthers) is disappointed that we didn’t take more guys, but he is excited for us.”
“I’m ready,” McPhail said with nothing but confidence in his eyes.