Wayne junior Stetson Baker flips a Bedford-Lenox opponent with a fireman’s carry. The Falcons got their season started strong with a win and a close loss against schools consolidated for wrestling season. Photo by Heidi Bellon
FALCONS GO FROM FIVE ATHLETES TO 25 IN FOUR YEARS
Even for an optimist like Wayne head wrestling coach Joe Nekvinda, it would have been difficult four years ago to imagine 25 Falcons suiting up for the 2016-17 season. The year before Nekvinda and assistant coach Joel Petty took over, Wayne fielded a team of five.
That group ended the year with only three healthy wrestlers. It went up to 11 Nekvinda’s first year, 17 last year, and now the breakout season of 2016-17.
Against an 11-school conference, where teams are sometimes consolidated from three different schools for wrestling season, a winning season is expected for Wayne. Last year, the Falcons missed that mark by one match, finishing 11-12.
“I think we’re going to blow that out of the water,” Nekvinda said. “Our goal is be competitive in every dual meet, and obviously take several kids to districts, and hopefully some to state.”
Their only senior, Blayde Baker, made it to the state wrestling tournament last spring.
The Falcons wrestled for the first time on Dec. 1, beating Bedford-Lenox 54-30 and just missing an upset against Central Decatur—which wrestles with athletes from Lamoni and Mormon Trail—41-30.
An example of the kind of athlete Nekvinda has found by recruiting within Wayne is junior Matt Bellon, a football standout but a first year wrestler in the 285-pound weight class. Bellon got his career started strong with two pins against opponents from bigger schools.
“Matt’s a huge, wonderful addition,” Nekvinda said. “He was a beast last night. I expected big things, but I thought he might still be tentative. And we got him fired up, and he went out and manhandled [his opponents].
“We really haven’t had a true heavyweight for a few years.”
Also at heavyweight is freshman Beau Pearson, whose father wrestled at Wayne, out for the sport for the first time.
That’s almost 600 pounds of reinforcement for the next few seasons to come.
Two other big additions are sophomore Hunter Cobb at 152 pounds, who wrestled at Chariton last year, and freshman Brady Langloss at 145, another athletic, first-year wrestler.
“He’s got some skills,” Nekvinda said of Langloss. “He’s going to do really well.”
Nekvinda also praised sophomore Aaron Casey at 152, a second-year wrestler.
“He’s just so much stronger,” Nekvinda said. “And just that knowledge base of having a year of experience. He won a really exciting match last night, too.”
The top returners for the Falcons are juniors Davin Veach at 106 and Stetson Baker at 138, sophomores Hunter Clark at 132 and Spencer Buban at 220, and senior Connor Runyon at 195.
“That experience level, and he’s so much more physical than he used to be,” Nekvinda said of Veach, who was probably last season’s most improved wrestler, finishing 24-8. “And I think it’s going to be another step that way. From day one of the first day of school, he’s coming in running with me when I run in the morning. That dedication level showed last night.”
Neither school had a wrestler at 106, so Nekvinda bumped Veach up, and Veach responded by dominating his larger opponent.
“Buban had close to a .500 record, and he’s going to explode off that this year,” Nekvinda said. “He was one-and-one last night—the kid he lost to was a state qualifier from Leon. He’ll win a lot of matches, too.”
Having 25 high school and nine junior high wrestlers is both a blessing and a curse.
“We have a wrestling room that’s made for about 15 people,” Nekvinda said. “This is a good problem to have.
“Success breeds success. That’s part of it. And I think kids that go out and like it work on their friends [to go out]. And we’re having fun. The kids the last couple years see we’re winning, and that success breeds more enthusiasm.”
As well, Nekvinda has only seen one senior wrestler graduate in his tenure, last year with Blayde Baker. Youth will be served.
Nekvinda can also use his numbers to move his lineup around to suit the opponent and to deal with injuries, as he did with junior Grady Carpenter, whom he bumped up from 170 to 182.
“Having that flexibility is a big thing,” Nekvinda said. “And not having any open weights is huge for Class 1A.”
This season there are four seniors, Brian Boggs, Ben Saunders, who is still recovering from a football injury, Erica Halferty, and Connor Runyon. Halferty’s four-year presence has helped recruit a new female wrestler, freshman Sarah Moorman at 113 pounds.
“That takes a lot of determination,” Nekvinda said of Halferty’s career.
One of Wayne’s next opponent, Moravia, combines with Seymour and Moulton-Udell for wrestling. The meet starts at 6 p.m. on Tues., Dec. 6 in Seymour.
“When they combine, they’re actually bigger than us,” Nekvinda said. “Looking at this group of kids, I think we’ll have nine or 10 kids that will win 20 or more matches. If you do that, you’re going to have success. We had 14 wrestle-offs just for varsity the other day.”
Having more students involved means more parents and spectators involved.
“We had a huge crowd last night,” Nekvinda said of the meet in Leon. “Joel took a picture of the crowd and put in on Snapchat, and circled the CD area and the Bedford-Lenox area and the Wayne area—and we were half the crowd at an away meet.”
Wayne’s first home meet will be Thurs., Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. against Mount Ayr and Interstate 35.