Experience should make a strong team stronger this season

Having not graduated anyone from a team that finished a close second in the league last year, Hillsboro wrestling coach Corey Burton and his team have a league championship in their sights this winter.

“We should be very competitive around here, and that’s what I want,” Burton said.

This year’s team includes 19 wrestlers, 10 of whom were varsity wrestlers a year ago. Every member of this year’s team, with one exception, has at least one year of wrestling experience and most have more.

In wrestling, nothing makes for improvement more than experience.

“Mat time is so important,” Burton said. “That’s why a lot of kids you see who do really well, like your multiple state champions, have gone through a kids’ wrestling program. They’ve got a lot of matches behind them when they hit high school.”

Burton returns three wrestlers who qualified for state last season. Ronnie Davis, a junior this year, came within one match of placing at the 215-pound class. Senior Chuck Bina and junior Carson Greenhaw competed at 160 and 140 pounds, respectively.

Burton expects Davis and Bina to compete at the same weight this winter, while Greenhaw will likely move up a class to 145.

“With Ronnie being as close as he was and coming back at that same weight, he should come out ranked in the top four in the state,” Burton said. “So we’re expecting good things from him. He’s just got to go out there and do it.

“Chuck made his first trip last year, but he didn’t wrestle as a freshman,” Burton said. “Last year was really his first year out in high school. He should be tougher this year at that weight.”

“Carson’s been to state twice and has won a match or two down there,” he said. “He just has to string some together this year.”

Four more seniors should benefit from their experience, too. Ryan Jilka (171 pounds) competed in 30 varsity matches; Adam Jilka (152) wrestled in 29 matches; and Jared Hefley (135) competed in 26 matches. John Simms (125), with 31 matches last season, will be wrestling at 125 pounds.

“Those kids all had a good year last year,” Burton said. “They wrestled a ton of varsity matches.”

The other returning letterwinners are sophomore Bri Ratzlaff, 18 matches last season and wrestling at 103 this year; sophomore James Bina, with 30 matches and wrestling at 140; and junior Wade Sorensen, 28 matches and wrestling at 189.

Billy Weingarner, a sophomore non-letterwinner will wrestle at 152.

Burton is pleased with his large freshman class of eight wrestlers: Tim Glahn (140), Ryan Janzen (112), Wade Kimbrel (112), Cody Pankratz (275), Tyler Stout (125), Brian Thiessen (139), Andrew Waldbauer (125) and Danny Yoder (130).

“This is a good freshman class,” he said. “If I can get eight every year, we’d be perfect. That’s about all we need. You always want more, but eight every year would be perfect for us.”

Having come up through Burton’s wrestling program in middle school and some in club competition, even his freshman-except Waldbauer-have experience. And that makes a difference for the coaches.

“I’ve started almost every other year with the very basics-how even to score in wrestling,” said Burton, who will be assisted again this year by Scott O’Hare. “This year we didn’t have to do that. We could get right in and start drilling on moves kids already knew how to do-we’re just trying to refine them and make them better. It’s a huge advantage.”

One of Burton’s challenges will be to fill as many of the 14 weight classes as possible. If he can, he likes his team’s chances for success in the team competition.

“If we can spread out into the right weight classes, we should be a pretty solid dual team because we’ll put decent wrestlers on the mat at every weight,” he said.

“In tournaments, we’re just going to have to find out. We’ve got the kids who have the experience to go out and get the medals this year. That’s where you’re going to score your points in tournaments.”

Burton is pleased with his team’s focus so far in practice.

“Practices are pretty intense,” he said. “We’re really working hard in the (wrestling) room. They’re doing a great job for us.”

Burton’s primary hope is that the intensity continues when they’re in competition.

“I want us to wrestle hard every week, and give it everything we’ve got,” he said. “If we do that, I’ll be thrilled.”

Trojan wrestlers and their fans will have added incentive at the team’s three home matches this season. Burton has arranged with Hillsboro McDonald’s to give away a free hamburger to every fan in the stands when the Trojans record at least 20 takedowns during the evening.

“It’s kind of a way to support the sport a little bit, get the news out there to the fans what we’re doing, and try to get a few more people into the stands to watch us,” Burton said.

“It’s going to be a tough thing to get those 20 takedowns,” he added. “You wrestle 14 matches-that’s when both teams fill all the weight classes. We’re looking at needing at least two takedowns every match out of our guys.”

The first opportunity to cash in on the hamburger deal will be Thursday, when Hillsboro opens its season with dual matches against Nickerson and Stafford beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The other two home matches will be Jan. 16 against Lyons and Lincoln, and then Jan. 25 against Council Grove and Eureka.

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