The GHS wrestling program has scaled some impressive heights the past two seasons.
Last year the squad took a fourth place finish at the state tournament; a mark that was only surpassed once before in the history of the program. That occasion came in ’07 when the team took all the marbles and the state championship.
With that sort of history in mind, expectations run high and head coach John Henry Ward and his troops are ready to take up the challenge for the new campaign.
“The kids are working hard and doing everything that we’ve asked of them,” Ward said. “Everyone has a good attitude and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The Ridgerunners feature a core group of returning starters, led by senior, and three-time state qualifier, Zach Housley, a 112-pounder.
“Not too many people work as hard as he does,” Ward said. “He’s wrestling great right now and he’s becoming a leader with the team. We’re looking for big things from him.”
Junior Damien Hopper is a two-time state qualifier who was crowned a state champion as a freshman.
“Damien won the Oklahoma Open tournament at OU last week at 119 pounds,” Ward said. “He’s doing a really good job.”
Spencer Rutherford will return for his second year with the Ridgerunners.
“He’s tough,” Ward said. “He qualified for state last year and he should have another good season this year.”
Junior Bryce Armstrong is another returning starter for GHS.
“He keeps improving by leaps and bounds,” Ward said. “He has a great attitude and his off-season freestyle wrestling has really made him better.”
With so much talent stacked up on the lighter weight scale, the Ridgerunners are faced with an embarrassment of riches.
“We’ll probably have four kids at three weights,” Ward said. “The guys can only go so far down or up. Still, it’s a good problem to have. Even if one of our guys has to move up a weight, they’re still tougher than nails.
“Steel sharpens steel and they’re all going to make each other better,” Ward surmised.
The heavier weights will be an area of attention for the team early on.
Senior Weston Culvey, a state qualifier last season, looks set to return at the 215-pound slot. Josh Friend, a sophomore, should re-claim his starting role at heavyweight.
“At the beginning of the year we’ll be a little patchwork there,” Ward said about the situation. “But hopefully we can get that taken care of and get our priorities straight and we’ll be OK.”
Adding a dimension in the heavier weights is newcomer Blake Clodfelter, at 171 pounds.
“Blake is doing a good job and he has the right attitude,” Ward said. “We’re gonnna make a great wrestler out of him.”
Another new face on the team is Jay transfer Jimmy Roach, who should settle in somewhere in the 130-140 pound range. OSSAA transfer rules mean that Roach will have to sit out of competition until January.
Cameron Smith is another new member of the team.
“He’s a scrapper,” Ward said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch.”
A trio of freshmen, Benny Steffenson, Zach Bergman, and Anthony Krause, could also play a role with the varsity squad this year, according to the coach.
In mid-January the Ridgeruners will be hosting the district quad meet. The winner of that event gets a ticket to the dual state tournament.
“It’s good to have the quad here at home,” Ward said. “We can get a crowd behind us and the kids are more comfortable.
“Bonus points will be a huge factor for us in duals this year,” Ward continued. “We can’t give up pins and we can’t give up bonus points, either.”
The season has only just begun but Ward, along with coaches Dan Davies and Dustin Crowder, like what have they have seen from their grapplers so far.
“The first practices weren’t as bad as you’d think,” Ward said. “We still have a little bit to go on conditioning but everyone is working hard.
“The kids that are on the team are the ones that want to be in here and they’re all willing to do the hard work.”