Two years ago rookie head coach Trevor Kittleson guided seven Perry wrestlers to the Class 2A State Tournament. Two-time state qualifying senior Seth Stetzel is the only member of that septet who remains, but he is joined by sophomore qualifier Kade VanKirk, and having two grapplers who competed at the penultimate event has helped maintain a positive attitude in the Bluejay wrestling room, Kittleson said.
"When you have guys in the room that have been to the state tournament it inspires everyone else," Kittleson said. "It sets an example of what hard work can do. Do you have to be talented? Sure. But talented guys who don’t work hard just don’t make it … there is no way to avoid the work it takes and how you approach the truth (of that) can make all the difference."
Stetzel (36-11 last year) was eighth at 132 pounds as a sophomore before being bounced after one win in Des Moines as a junior at 138. He could conceivably take the mat at 152 but is almost certain to compete at 145 instead.
At 107-33 for his career, he is well within range of surpassing Jackson VanKirk’s total of 128 career victories, which stands second all-time at Perry (Kane Seeley is the record holder at 158-17).
"I know Seth was disappointed in how last season ended and I know that is motivating him for this year — as if he needed any more motivation," Kittleson smiled. "Seth is an incredibly worker but also listens to his coaches. He wants more than just going back to state and it is going to be fun watching him go after his goals."
Kade VanKirk finished 29-20 last year at 106 and will move up to 113. He struggled at times last year with opponents who were both physically bigger and taller, with a decided advantage in reach.
"Last year he ran into some guys who were just longer than him and it made it tough for him to be offensive and launch his attacks," Kittleson said. "This year he should not have that same issue. He learned a lot last year and if he is willing to work as hard as he has showed he could be in for another great season."
While the spotlight might be on the lower half of the 14 weight-class divisions, it is at the opposite end of the chart that Kittleson said he has been given reason to smile.
"I am really excited to have some of the bigger guys deciding to come out," he said. "This will give us some strength and some depth at the top that we have not really had. We are starting to see more of the bigger football guys showing up each year, and that helps both sports."
Joel Olvera and Edgar Revelorio will battle for the heavyweight slot, with Jorge Soto currently the lead choice at 220. Kittleson said he has a number of underclassmen who could possibly slide into the 195-pound slot, but they will have to get by senior Michael Lansing, who was a surprise addition to the squad.
"Michael is very raw, but his strength can make up for some of that," Kittleson said. "I am happy to have him in the room. He is a hard worker and will set a solid example."
Kittleson said he has been impressed with 182-pounder Brandon Pillow, who "I expect to see stepping it up and making some big gains."
Eli Saemisch is the likely choice at 170 and Dewilo Simoni at 160, both weight classes at which the Bluejays (aside from those mentioned) a large selection of inexperienced first-year grapplers.
Kaleb Cartstarphen will go out 152 once Stetzel slides into 145. Pat Ferrusca is the current leader at 138, with the coaches hopeful Jeffrey Argueta will make weight and take the 132-pound spot.
Ivan Garcia appears set at 126 and Gisaveri Niyibizi at 120, with first-year sophomore Htwar Reh having shown early promise at 106.
"I like the numbers we have out and like the attitude we have shown so far," Kittleson said. "As long as we stay healthy and the guys improve from one week to the next we will end up where we want to be once February gets here."