The GHS wrestling team spent the weekend at the Fairgrounds in OKC for the 5A State Wrestling Tournament and came away with a fourth place team finish.
Individually the Ridgerunners sent six wrestlers to the tournament and four of those student athletes finished the weekend on the podium.
Junior Zach Housley, coming off a regional championship, made his third consecutive appearance at the state tournament and finished as runner up in the 112 lbs class.
Sophomore Damien Hopper made his second state tournament this year and finished in third place at the 119 lbs class after taking second place at the regional tournament.
Spencer Rutherford, a sophomore, finished second at the state tournament and at regionals in the 125 lbs division.
Senior Connor Sarwinski placed third at state in the 152 lbs class. Sarwinski was the regional champion for his weight and ’09 marked his second consecutive state tournament.
Senior Dusty Gehrke took third place at the regional meet for the 160 lbs class and narrowly missed the consolation finals at state. Gehrke was a podium finisher at the state tournament last season for the Ridgerunners.
Junior Weston Culvey finished fourth at the regional meet in the 215 lbs class and was one match away from the consolation finals at the state tournament.
Ridgerunner Wrestling Head Coach John Henry Ward was proud of the effort he saw from his charges at the state tournament.
“It was good,” Ward said. “We felt going in that if we had a perfect weekend then we’d have an outside shot at (team) second place. We wound up having a pretty good weekend. It wasn’t a perfect weekend but it was pretty good. To have two guys in the finals and to have two others take third is something that we’re all very proud of.
“The kids did a great job,” Ward continued. “We wrestled really well and finished fourth. That’s still the second highest finish in school history behind last year.”
While the performance of the podium finishers speaks for itself, the coach gave some insight on the tournament weekend for Gehrke and Culvey.
“He’s always had the ability and at the end of the season he put it all together,” Ward said about Culvey. “He had a really good tournament at regionals and at state. It was good to see him come through.”
Culvey will have next season to come back and make improvements but 2009 marked the end of the line for senior Gehrke.
“We’d of liked to have seen Dusty in there (finals),” Ward said. “It goes back to sometimes life is just not fair. He worked so hard and for him to get caught in a funky move and get pinned; you hate to see it happen to a guy like that. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“He was very disappointed but at the same time he understands that life isn’t always fair,” Ward added.
The end of any sporting season is always marked with sentiment for the seniors, and this year the Ridgerunner squad will bid adieu to four upperclassmen. Besides Gehrke and Sarwinski the GHS team will lose Corey Davenport and Dusty Baker.
Davenport began the season as a starter at the 171 lbs class but suffered an injury early on that kept him off the mat for the remainder of the season. Despite the setback Davenport stayed with the team for the full season and made contributions where he could, an effort that was appreciated by the GHS coaches.
Baker, a veteran of the program and sometime starter at the middleweights, helped the team in many ways during his tenure at GHS according to Ward.
“He embodies the team mentality,” Ward said. “He had a lot of pride in himself and in what he was doing and he always fought hard on the mat. He was always at practice and he always did his job. He made his weight and he did what he could do to help the team to the best of his ability. That’s all we can ask of anybody. It takes people like him to have a successful team and he was a very important person to us.”
For Gehrke and Sarwinski the state tournament marked the swan song for two of the most elite wrestlers to participate in the GHS program.
“They had a great season,” Ward said about the duo. “They had a good time being friends and wrestling at close weights and getting to work out with each other and push each other. Guys like that don’t come around everyday and we were very fortunate to have them with us.”
The Ridgerunners ended their dual season with a 21-6 record. The lofty mark was a direct result of hard work and dedication on the part of everyone in the program, as Ward explained.
“We had seven guys who were very experienced and had a lot of success. And we had seven guys that were pretty new to the sport and didn’t have as much success,” Ward said of the dual effort. “We had some stretches where some of the guys were a little down about not having that success. But we all came together as a team and helped to encourage each other. Every team each year has to learn how to deal with itself. These kids did a good job of learning how to pick each other up and work together as a group. Every group is different and what worked last year may not work this year. In the end I think it all worked out well and they became closer and pushed each other. And that’s part of what it’s all about; learning to get along with each other and make each other better.”
The dual team stacked up plenty of big wins but there were a couple of losses that played a role in helping the team gain success as the season went along.
“Anytime the final score was within a match (points-wise) then you always feel that there was a way we could have won it,” Ward said. “When you lose- even though it hurts- you can turn it into a positive by fixing mistakes. If we can, as a team, learn from that experience- and not let it happen again- then it served a purpose. And that can help us in the long run.”
With the ’08-’09 season in the books Ward and his staff are already looking to next season and they like what they see for the future of GHS wrestling.
“We’re only losing two full time starters and other than that everybody else should be back next year,” Ward said.
“We had several kids improve a lot from the first day of the season to the last day,” Ward said. “Jarrod Leach and Michael Fenlon improved a lot. Josh Friend made a lot of improvement at heavyweight. He was a freshman that wrestled a lot of junior high and then at the end came up to varsity. He showed a great attitude and he does things well.
“Bryce Armstrong got better this year. Caleb Humphrey is another. Levi Wangen, Hunter Hays - there are several guys you could pick out as improving quite a bit this year,” Ward added.
Josh Popp, at 103 lbs, is another wrestler that made improvements this year and should be back in ’09-’10.
“He was a freshman and he showed great attitude this year,” Ward said of the varsity starter. “He volunteered to come up and wrestle the weight otherwise we would have had a forfeit there. He’s a little undersized and a little less experienced (than a lot of his opponents.) He took some rough times this year but never wavered and stayed right there with us and made improvements as the season went on. As a coach I really appreciate people like that.”
Looking ahead the GHS program will be holding a wrestling camp at the end of May and sponsoring a trip to the OU wrestling camp in July. Watch this space for details.
A successful program such as the one at GHS is an effort that requires involvement from all aspects of the community at large.
“We want to thank all the people who supported us this year,” Ward said. “The parents and the booster club did a lot of hard work for us this year and we appreciate it.”