3-2-1A preview: Younger makes offseason improvements for Railers
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS – Ellis High School senior 152-pounder Gage Younger had produced an impressive resume entering this season. As a sophomore, he finished fourth at the Class 3-2-1A state meet.
Last year, Younger took fifth. However, Younger has improved on and off the mat this winter, posted a 36-2 record and is among the favorites for a state championship this weekend at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“Probably the best word for him, he has really matured, and it has shown throughout the year,” Railroader coach Casey Dinkel said.
Younger set four goals in the preseason: win more tournaments, reach the finals of the Bob Kuhn Prairie Senior Classic in mid-January at Hays High School, win regionals and make the state finals.
“I think the main thing was, it was my senior year,” Younger said. “I don’t have any second chances like every other year, you have next season, you have next season, but this season, I didn’t have that, so I was going to try to do everything I could to win every tournament, and win all those matches and hopefully win state.”
He accomplished the first two goals, but missed the regional title last Saturday when he lost, 8-4, to Russell senior Regis Weiss.
Younger had defeated Weiss earlier in the season. Younger called the defeat “the first step back” of the year. That put Younger on the same side of the state bracket as Halstead senior Alex Thibault (32-1).
“I was hoping not to see him until the finals, but you have got to beat him sometime, so hopefully I can knock him off early,” Younger said. “I definitely wanted to win state for sure. I knew I was going to do everything I could possibly to win. If I didn’t, I didn’t, but I was going to try my best.”
A third state medal would put Younger into rare company in Ellis history. Only three Railroaders, assistant coach Brandon Pfeifer, Ryan Honas and Riley Hunsicker, have won three state medals.
“I would say almost a completely different kid from last year,” Dinkel said. “He knows, without a doubt, that he is going to go out there, and I would say win. He believes that. He knows that, so that’s probably the biggest difference.”
Hunsicker, one of Younger’s best friends, finished second, fourth and first in his senior year. He is one of three Railers to capture a state crown.
“I want to be remembered up on that board,” Younger said. “That’s kind of why I want to be one of the state champions, there has only been three of them.”
Younger has learned from Hunsicker, who now plays football at Hutchinson Community College. Hunsicker, who normally officiates on the weekends, came to a couple tournaments this season and is going to help Younger warmup this year. Younger learned a positive mindset from Hunsicker, a three-sport standout who pulled arguably the biggest upset of the state finals last winter when he defeated Wellsville’s Jesse LeMay.
“You have got to believe that you are the best, and I think that has helped me the most this year,” Younger said. “It is more of a mental thing, if you know that you are going to win, then you are going to win, because Riley was always the best with the mental things. He always knew that he was better than anybody.
“If you think that you are going to win, it definitely helps, and you have to be confident,” he added. “When you go out there, you have to know that you are better than the kids. I kind of lost that in my finals match at regionals just a little bit. I think that’s what held me back.”