For the first time in program history, the Marion wrestling team boasts a state champion in its ranks.
Senior Kyle Palic won the Class 3-2-1A state title at 220 pounds and is the Warriors? latest addition to the Marion Hall of Fame.
?It doesn?t really register I guess,? Palic said. ?It?s a good feeling.?
The championship victory came on the heels of Palic?s successful senior campaign, in which he rolled up 45 wins and just two losses leading up to the state tournament Feb. 27-28 at Fort Hays State University.
Palic climbed the state rankings as the season progressed and entered the state tournament as the top-ranked wrestler in Class 3A in his weight class.
Marion coach Chad Adkins attributed much of Palic?s success on the mat to his strength and work ethic.
?He?s strong from his fingertips all the way in, and it?s attributed to the hard work he puts in,? he said. ?He lifts in the weight room like a beast.?
At state, Palic advanced through the first two rounds, pinning both Wyatt Eitel of Scott Community and Juan Guzman of Hesston.
But the road to the championship meant a rematch with Cimarron?s AJ Cooper, the second-ranked wrestler, in the semifinals.
Palic and Cooper had faced each other twice prior to meeting at state. Each had one win against the other. Cooper defeated Palic by 5-4 decision in the championship of the JR Durham Invitational at Norton Jan. 10, while Palic won a 9-5 decision over Cooper at the Hoisington Cardinal Classic Jan. 30.
The stage was set for a showdown that did not disappoint.
?That was our third time wrestling this year, so we kind of knew what each other did,? Palic said. ?He came out ready to wrestle, I guess you could say. He was ready to go. I really wasn?t too fired up about it I guess.?
Adkins said Cooper wrestled differently than he had in the previous two meetings.
Palic agreed: ?He wouldn?t let me take him down.?
In the final 30 seconds, Palic got a takedown, giving him enough points to win by 3-2 decision.
?(Kyle) just did a phenomenal job of getting the takedown at the end,? Adkins said. ?Just decided he was going to get it.
?We?re the only one that could do that to Cooper. I?ll promise you that. There?s nobody else out there taking him on. He knew what we were going to do and we still did it anyway.?
Palic?s win over Cooper set up a championship match against Luke Jacobs of Phillipsburg, whom Palic had faced in the state semifinals last year and won by fall in the third period.
This year, Jacobs won his semifinal matchup over defending state champion Dylan Gassmann of Oakley, to whom Palic lost a 3-2 decision in the state finals a year ago.
Having avenged last year?s state finals loss by defeating Gassmann at Norton earlier this year, Palic said that although it would have been fun to meet Gassmann in the finals again, he was glad to face Jacobs this time around.
?I was actually kind of happy when I had Jacobs,? Palic said. ?He?s a big, tall, lanky kid, and I like wrestling tall people, so it was kind of an advantage for me. I had already beat Gassmann once this year, so I really wasn?t worried about it.?
Palic pinned Jacobs with nine seconds left in the first period to become Marion?s first state wrestling champion.
?I just knew that going to the finals match, I couldn?t get cradled,? Palic said. ?I?d have to stay long and not let him cradle me. That was pretty much the only thing I had to worry about going into the finals match.?
Adkins said he would not have drawn up the bracket the way it went with Palic facing Cooper in the semifinals, but said he was confident in Palic?s abilities no matter who he faced.
?The bottom line is, the caliber that (Kyle) is, you have to beat everybody there to win the medal that you know you?re capable of winning, so it really, ultimately, doesn?t matter when you see them.
?The good thing is, we knew that we were good enough to beat whoever they gave us, and he did that, fortunately. To be able to beat Cooper twice after he knew what we were going to do is a pretty big accomplishment because he?s good.?
Becoming a champion
Palic said he began wrestling around age 5. After three or four years, Palic?s father began taking him to Salina once a week to wrestle, an experience Palic said he did not always enjoy.
?It was tough practice,? he said. ?It was like a high school practice but for kids.?
Palic continued to wrestle as he grew. As a high school freshman, Palic qualified for state at 170 pounds with a 27-12 record, but he lost his first two matches at state.
After taking a hiatus his sophomore year, Palic returned to the mat last year for his junior season, telling Adkins he was going to win the state title.
Ultimately he finished as state runner-up at 220 pounds after the loss to Gassmann, posting an overall record of 38-5.
This year, Palic came back for his senior season to make good on his promise.
Adkins said he knew from the start of the season that Palic was capable of winning it all.
?I tried to not put much pressure, but I knew we should be,? he said. ?That was my feeling. I think we all felt we should?ve been last year, or were capable of it, in that match.?
Adkins praised Palic?s work ethic, which culminated in winning the championship title.
?He just works really hard,? he said. ?He?s a heck of an athlete. Last year gave him the fire to want to make sure and win.?
In his three-year high school wrestling career, Palic tallied 109 wins and 20 losses, including just seven losses over the last two seasons.
Had Palic wrestled all four years, Adkins said he would have easily broken Marion?s current record for career wins.
?I wish for him he would?ve wrestled all four years, just because I think there would?ve been other things he would?ve accomplished,? Adkins said. ?Not that I?m not totally proud of what he has accomplished. I also have a lot of respect for him because he did exactly what he said he was going to do, and you don?t find that very often in kids.?
A standout athlete in multiple sports?Palic received all-state recognition and was a first team all-league selection on both offense and defense last football season and placed fifth in the discus at the state track meet last year?Palic has chosen to continue playing his favorite sport of football at Hutchinson Community College in the fall.
Adkins and Palic agreed that wrestling has helped make him a better football player.
?Wrestling is a tough sport,? Palic said. ?It just gets you mentally prepared. It gives you that grit and cockiness that you need.?
Adkins praised Palic for the leadership he?s shown this year.
?He?s got goals,? he said. ?He knows what he wants to do and it translates. He ended up being a really good leader for us this year.
?I?m just proud of him, and proud of his effort. He deserves it. He works really hard.?
Adkins said winning a state title is huge for the Marion wrestling program and added that it could not have come at a better time. With Marion?s success in recent years?the Warriors took nine wrestlers to the state tournament last year and seven this year?it sets a precedent to follow.
?It came at a really good time because we have a lot of guys left that are capable, eventually, of the same thing,? he said. ?These kids work tremendously hard.
?The bottom line is, we can talk about having a good season?we?ve had a lot of good seasons in the past, and we just continue to get better?but in the end, it really all ultimately gets judged by what you do at the state tournament. It?s nice to come home with a state champion and state placer.?
In addition to Palic?s first-place medal, senior Adam Janzen brought home the fourth-place medal at 182 pounds. As a team, the Warriors placed sixth overall at state, the highest finish in program history.
Looking back over the season, Adkins said it turned out to be a surprisingly successful year for the Warrior team.
?I knew we had Adam and Kyle,? Adkins said. ?I didn?t know how the rest of it would all fall in place. We won a lot of tournaments this year. Runners-up at regionals and the sixth-place finish at the state tournament?s huge. It shows those people out there that we can compete.?
For Adkins, having Palic win the state title only adds to Marion?s tradition of wrestling excellence.
?We?ve had a lot of (state) placers,? Adkins said. ?It?s always rewarding anyway, but I?d be a liar if I told you that it wasn?t pretty cool to finally have (a state champion).?