ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
With the first class of freshmen to come up through the Kids Wrestling program, Coach Chad Adkins has 38 athletes competing for varsity spots. A solid group of veterans has a tight grip on nine of those spots. Front row (from left): Charles Holub and Mark Kukuk; back row, Adam Regnier, John Barr, Logan Richmond and Hank Collett. Not pictured are Ben Leppke, Thomas McGee and Tyler Slater.
Chad Adkins tries not to grin too much, but he is obviously excited about the upcoming wrestling season.
Keeping his athletes focused on the coming season might take more energy than it used to, but only because the program continues to grow.
With 38 wrestlers-seven more than came out last year-the seventh-year Marion Warriors head wrestling coach has an experienced squad despite the graduation of three seniors who qualified for state: Adam Depler, Casey Nelson and Gavin Moore.
Citing five examples, Adkins seems pretty sure the established wrestlers have quite a bit to teach the newcomers.
While some aspects of the roster tend to be tentative-especially details about who will be wrestling in which weight classes-two seniors and two juniors sit at the top of the squad.
“John Barr came within a double-overtime loss of qualifying for state last year, and he’s a lot stronger this year,” Adkins said. “Actually, getting stronger is a theme for a lot of our kids.”
Barr is tentatively set to wrestle at 152 pounds.
At 160 pounds, senior Ben Leppke “has all the tools and just needs to turn the corner. He works very hard to be successful.”
Leppke is a four-year varsity wrestler who “needs consistency.”
Charles Holub is a 140-pound junior who qualified for state as a sophomore.
“Charlie Holub is a tough, tough kid who works a lot of the upper body stuff-throws and things like that,” Adkins said. “He won a match as a state qualifier last year.”
The fourth wrestler Adkins points to when talking about the strength of the program is Hank Collett-a junior tentatively listed at 145 pounds-who has stepped into a leadership role on the team.
Adkins said that “(Collett) has taken the next step. He’s looking good this year.”
Sophomore Brad Klenda will try to bounce back from injury well enough to pin down his spot at 171 pounds.
“Brad Klenda didn’t get to wrestle last year because he tore his ACL at the end of the football season,” Adkins said. “He’s kind of banged up this year, but, knocking the rust off, he’s very talented and an athletic kid.”
Among the incoming freshmen are Klenda’s brother, Nick, and a pair of twins, Dillon and Cody Wildin.
“Dillon and Cody have been doing Kids Wrestling since third grade, so they come in with a lot of experience,” Adkins said.
But he declined to say much more about individuals among the multitude of underclassmen, and instead preferred to talk about them as a whole.
He said, “This freshman class will come in and automatically give our upperclassmen a run for their money. This class is our first that spent any length of time in the kids’ program.
“(As a result) we’re two and three deep in each weight class. We’ve got a lot of really good freshmen, and a lot of freshmen on the varsity squad,” Adkins said.
With so many wrestlers striving for a varsity roster spot, the best practice room in the history of the program is being put to good use.
Although that practice room may already be taking on the characteristic odor, make no mistake-there is optimism in the air, too.
“We want an undefeated dual schedule and to win the regional,” Adkins said.
The coach’s expectations are partly due to the rising number of new faces, and partly due to the fact that most of the newcomers are already experienced wrestlers.
“And there are 30-plus kids doing club wrestling,” Adkins said-with a hint of a smile, of course.