It’s almost been a full year since Chanute High School wrestling won the Class 4A State title. And with practice about to ramp up next week, the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association has given the Blue Comets the respect they deserve.
The organization last week ranked Chanute No. 1 in Class 4A, which can be chalked up as one more time the organization has deemed CHS the exemplary program in the class to start the season.
Eighteenth-year head coach Andy Albright said he was flattered, but didn’t read too much into the recognition.
“I didn’t see them; one of my friends sent them to me,” Albright, the 2020 Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Regional Co-Coach of the Year, said. “It’s a compliment to our program, our high school and our community. But once again, it’s ink on paper. That’s all it is. And so we still have to go out and try and score points and wrestle to the best of our ability.”
Just last season, the Blue Comets finished the year on Feb. 29 at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina, where CHS scored a grand total of 151 points en route to the school’s first male state championship since 1935 (boys’ State basketball championship) and the first State wrestling title in the history of the program. And, it was the first time since 2016 (Brady Vogel) an individual athlete placed first at State.
To help win the championship, senior Brayden Dillow (182) won an individual State title as the No. 2 wrestler in his class last year. Dillow was able to oust Concordia junior Hunter Schroeder in a 7-3 decision. This year, Dillow is the No. 1 wrestler in his class.
“It’s really cool to be recognized as No. 1 in our division, but in the end, we are aware of rankings only being a number,” Dillow said. “Therefore, I and many teammates have been trying to create many opportunities to work towards our goal for State. With the help of Coach Albright, we feel really confident in making every practice and make every match count this season.”
Also winning an individual State title was senior Trent Clements (106), who last year was No. 1 state-ranked. Clements bested Clay Center Community’s junior Rhett Koppes — the No. 3 wrestler in the weight class — in an 8-5 decision. Clements this year is the No. 2 wrestler in the 120-pound class.
Junior Kolton Misener (this year’s weight: 113, ranked No. 1), graduated Parker Winder (160), sophomore Trey Dillow (last year’s weight: 120, this year’s weight: 126, ranked No. 5), senior Colton Seely (last year’s weight: 126, this year’s weight: 145, ranked No. 4), Ty Leedy (last year’s weight: 132, this year: 138, ranked No. 4), graduated Logan McDonald (145), graduated Brady McDonald (152), sophomore Bryan Jackett (195), junior Tuker Davis (220, ranked No. 5) and senior Tyler Davis (last year’s weight: 138) all had a hand in the State title, too.
Overall, this Chanute team doled out 12 state qualifiers, produced seven regional champions and two regional runner-ups, finishing with a dual record of 21-1 for the first time in 17 years leading up to State. CHS earned unblemished records in 1971 and 1993 with 11-0 records.
Still, last year’s State title and overall success has placed the Blue Comets into unchartered territory: All schools now know who the big fish in the pond is, and the rankings further bolster that argument.
“Well I’ll be honest, I’ve never been in this situation...,” Albright said. “I kind of feel we need to worry about us and take care of business. And we train right and live the right lifestyles, and make sure we are wearing our masks and social distancing and not going to parties or anything like that and being 100 percent dedicated. I think that’s really going to be important this year as far as repeating.
“Do we have talent? We have a bunch of talent. We lost five really good seniors off of last year’s team. Can’t replace those guys, but hopefully someone steps up and tries to wrestle like those guys did. So really, we’ve been ranked first before and not finished where we should have at State, so like I said it’s just rankings, so hopefully we just go out and wrestle and have fun.”
Preparing for wrestling for the 2020-2021 year immediately started after last year ended. There was a minicamp over the summer along with some open mats.
On the administrative side of things, Albright and CHS Athletic Director Zack Murry have been incorporating all the changes and the precautions coordinated by the Kansas State High School Athletic Association due to COVID-19, which is a bullet the Blue Comets just missed in February of 2020 as a little more than a week later, the conglomerate shut down basketball and all of spring sports. One of the scheduling changes this year is CHS won’t be traveling out of state, and there will be no big tournaments. And, there will be two or three practices a week with smaller groups.
Albright and his wrestlers will do everything they can to ensure a season. But the more than a decade-and-a-half coach said he needs everybody in Chanute and the surrounding cities to do their part, as of Wednesday, there are 455 positive cases in Neosho County, which is 49 up from Monday.
“Our biggest opponent right now is COVID,” Albright said. “We just need to make sure these kids — and I know their families will do it — make sure we’re doing our part, and following the rules and wearing masks, social distancing, and just staying away. And we’re trying to have a little bit of a bubble and the only thing is we’re hoping our opponents are doing it, too. We really hope everybody’s doing it — the basketball teams and everybody in the community. For us to have a season, it’s going to take everybody on the same page — everywhere.”
With the year moving at a frenetic pace, Chanute next week will officially start to prepare for its first competition of the year, which is Dec. 2 at Olathe South in a quad. Olathe South, St. Thomas Aquinas and Lansing will be the competition. Later on in December, Chanute will face the 6A State champs in Mill Valley as well as the 5A State champs in Goddard.
“Having success with this team last year, sometimes it makes people lazy and do the opposite,” Albright added. “These guys are not like that. They are very motivated and driven to wrestle to their best of their ability this year.”