3-2-1A preview: Ball leads a talented Hoisington squad By CONOR NICHOLL
Hoisington High School coach Dan Schmidt grew up on a farm south of Hays and attended Thomas More Prep-Marian. Schmidt coached wrestling at TMP for 12 years and had success with his alma mater.

“A dream come true,” Schmidt said.

During Schmidt’s time at TMP, Curtis Simons, Schmidt’s friend, former college teammate and assistant, had taken the Hoisington wrestling job. Simons, now in the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame for winning multiple state titles at Emporia, coached Hoisington for seven years and built the foundation. Then Simons interviewed at Emporia and took the position. Simons called his friend.

“ ‘Schmidt, you need to take this program over,’ ” Schmidt said Simons said. “It is set to do really well. We’ve got the kids coming. We have never showed anything much, but I think things are in place to do well. He said, ‘You’ll like the salary.’ ”

Schmidt took the job at Hoisington and coached four years. His final season, Hoisington qualified seven kids to the state tournament and earned regional runner-up, two accomplishments Hoisington had never collected. However, Schmidt was burned out from the sport and left for three years before he returned for a season at the junior high level. After Schmidt left, Cardinal wrestling fell. One year, Hoisington had just six kids. The athletic director talked with Schmidt and said the school discussed ending the program.

“I said ‘No way,’ ” Schmidt said.

Schmidt decided to return to the varsity until Hoisington could find a replacement. Twelve years later, Schmidt hasn’t left – and has raised the program to a new level. Last year, Hoisington finished second behind Scott City at the Class 3-2-1A state meet for the best finish in Cardinal annals. This week, Hoisington and Norton are considered the favorites for a team title.

“I feel like we have a lot better chance than we did last year actually, and I am excited to see what we can do,” senior 145-pounder Chance Demel said.

Hoisington qualified seven wrestlers to state, including five regional champions, a school record. The Cardinals include Demel (37-0), junior 126-pounder Brandon Ball (39-0, defending state champion at 120) and senior 220-pounder Cayton Janousek (35-1). The
Cardinals could have had several more, but three wrestlers lost in the consolation semifinals at the Garden Plain regional last Saturday, including senior Zach Sanders. He led by seven points late in his semifinal match, but lost on a rare defensive fall.

Hoisington easily won the regional with 169.5 points, and Schmidt earned Regional Coach of the Year for the third time in four years.

“We still think that we’ve got enough firepower to make a nice run at state anyway,” Schmidt said. “We don’t know if we can win it, but we think we’ve got some pretty good kids. We like our opportunity to have a real good showing at state.”

Ball, Janousek, Demel, senior 182-pounder Hagen Hanzlick (31-5), junior 195-pounder Avery Urban (25-5) and senior 285-pounder

Darwin Brickley (24-10) form the Cardinals’ foundation for a deep, veteran team. Sophomore 120-pounder Landon Harmon (14-21) also qualified.

“We’ve got great kids,” Schmidt said. “Hard-working kids. Kids that bring a lunch pail everyday.”

Schmidt said the Cardinals had some weight classes where up to three wrestlers could have qualified for state.

“It’s been really fun throughout the years, and I am definitely going to miss it after this year,” Demel said. “It was my favorite sport and hopefully we can do something great this year.”

Ball is Hoisington’s top wrestler and one of the classification’s best, but has taken a unique path. The 17-year-old is the oldest of five brothers, all within 10 years. The family lives on a farm outside of town. The family has a trampoline and a 25-foot climbing rope in the backyard Ball normally climbs several times a week.

“It’s definitely a wrestling match at the house everyday,” Ball said.

Ball attended a Christian school in Great Bend kindergarten through second grade. Then he was home schooled until last year. Ball is technically a junior by school credits, but only a sophomore for wrestling. He is listed as a junior in the program, but could wrestle for two more years if he wants to (Ball hasn’t decided about his future yet). Ball enjoyed home schooling and being around his brothers, but likes school, having more friends and competing at the high school level.

Ball started wrestling when he was 10, and qualified for state in his first season. He finished second the next three years and then won kids’ state two seasons. Last year, he was unranked in the preseason and finished 37-12 with the state title at 120 pounds, the first sophomore in Hoisington history to win a title. Ball won his first two matches by fall in fewer than three minutes and then collected 4-0 and 7-0 victories in his final two matches. While some might have considered Ball’s title a surprise, Ball had beaten

Burlington sophomore Jake Elbrader in kids’ wrestling — and then again in the state finals last winter.

“Definitely a great accomplishment,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people thought that would happen.”

Ball still has never been pinned in his entire career. This season, Ball and Demel haven’t permitted a takedown and Janousek has allowed just one, which led to his lone loss.

“As long as you’re pressing in on the offense, they can’t do anything,” Ball said.

Demel had little experience in the younger ranks. He started wrestling in sixth grade and missed all of eighth grade wrestling when he was sick for three months. Still, Demel has qualified for state four times.

Last year, Demel took third at 145 pounds. His lone state loss was a 7-3 defeat to Rossville’s Tagen Lambotte, the eventual state champion. This year, Lambotte is 37-1 and ranked No. 1 in all classes at 145 pounds. He and Demel are on the same side of the bracket and could meet Friday afternoon with a shot at a state title on the line.

“He is definitely good at the sweep single, that’s what he beat me with last year,” Demel said.  “It’s when the guy goes down and wraps his arm around your leg, not just a straight on shot.”