By David Donnert
Manhattan took five wrestlers Saturday to the class 6A state wrestling championships at Hartman Arena in Park City Saturday. There was hardly anything normal about this state tournament. With COVID-19 restrictions, state was scaled down from two days to one, from 16 wrestlers per weight class to 8. Class 6A would not wrestle alongside 5A and limited fans in the stands. Only thing normal was the exceptional quality of competition each wrestler faced Saturday.
In the previous two weeks of qualifying for state, the Indians came out fast and furious, but that didn’t carry over for a third week in a row. Three wrestlers lost in the first round, those coming out with wins were junior Easton Taylor at 132 pounds and K-State football commit senior Damian Ilalio at 285 pounds, moving both wrestlers to the championship semifinals.
Two of the three wrestlers in the consolation quarter finals came up victorious, propelling themselves to the consolation semifinals and guaranteed a medal. Juniors Jantzen Borge won by fall giving him the first state medal in his second trip to state. Blaisen Bammes won by a 7-4 decision and would make him a 3 time state placer in three consecutive trips to state. Freshman Jameal Agnew was the only wrestler not to get a victory but it was a win for Agnew and MHS as the young freshman gained valuable experience for the future.
Taylor and Ilalio faced off against completion they saw last weekend at sub state. Taylor met Jacob Rymer (Haysville-Campus) this time Easton came away with a third period fall instead of the close decision last week. Ilalio squared off against Sebastian Lopez (Garden City) in the semifinals, unlike Damian losing in overtime he came away with an 8-1 win. Both Indian wrestlers were making return trips to the state finals.
Up next for Borge and Bammes were the consolation semifinals, both faced tough competition facing wrestlers who won their first matches but lost in the championship semifinals. For Borge it was a match against Eric Streeter (Lawrence-Freestate), while having a slight lead Streeter was able to get Borge to his back and scored a pin to move Jantzen to the fifth place match. Bammes saw Alec Samuelson (Olathe-North) this was a very tight match having Samuelson up by one moving into the third period. While Bammes was looking to take a 2-1 lead with a takedown, Samuelson actually got the takedown and the win 3-0 and Bammes joined Borge in the fifth place match.
While Taylor and Ilalio were waiting for their finals matches, the duo had to wait for the fifth and third places matches to conclude. In those fifth place matches saw both Borge and Bammes coming away on the short end and securing sixth place for each of them.
At state the starting weight class for the finals is done by a random draw, this year the starting weight class was 182 pounds. This would have Ilalio’s match before Taylor. While Ilalio made the finals last year only to see his goal of a state title fall short with a loss. This year in the finals Damian would face David Huckstep (Washburn Rural), these two have met numerous times. While Huckstep would have early success freshman and sophomore years, Ilalio would get the better of Huckstep the last two years. Both meet in the finals of the centennial league tournament and regional tournament this year, Damian winning at league and Huckstep winning regionals. This state match-up was just the best way for both wrestlers to end their high school careers. Once again Ilalio would get another rematch to avenge the first of his two losses on the year. This match would be scoreless after the first period. Ilalio scored the first points of the match with an escape in the second followed with a takedown. The final score had Damian winning 9-4 and a state championship in his senior year and achieving that dream of being on top of the podium at state.
The last match for Manhattan was Easton Taylor at 132 pounds, this had Taylor in the finals for a second straight year. Last year Easton dominated his finals match and came away with his first state title as a sophomore. This years final was more daunting because he had yet to beat his opponent this year in Damian Mendez (Dodge CIty) in the previous meetings. In those meeting you could see Taylor getting better and better as those matches were getting tighter. This finals match was the tightest it had been, both wrestlers made numerous attempts of getting a takedown and both had exceptional defense and would scramble out of those attempts. Scoreless after the first, Taylor started the second in the down position and as the period progressed Easton was able to escape. This had Mendez and Taylor looking for that takedown, that neither could score in the first and no got in the second. Mendez chose to start down in the third Taylor spent a lot of time keeping Mendez down but eventually he was able to get the one point escape. Now tied at one both went back to work looking for a takedown, this time with 20 seconds left in the match Mendez took a shot that Taylor could not fend off and giving Mendez a 3-1 win and kept Taylor from a second consecutive state title.
As for the team scores the tribe faced an up hill battle only having five wrestlers competing at state. Manhattan would bounce around the board from 11th to 7th to 9th and came to an end with a score of 51 and back in 11th place, something Manhattan hasn’t done in a long time by finishing outside the top ten. The top three teams in the end were Washburn Rural 159.5, second Olathe North 112 and third Dodge City with 106. Just an exclamation on a season that was anything but normal!