TMP's budding star

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

There was no learning curve for Thomas More Prep-Marian wrestler Tucker Rhoades.

The freshman's first high school match came in the Monarch's season-opening dual against Ellsworth on Dec. 5, a 9-0 loss to undefeated senior Ty Nienke, currently the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 113 pounds in Class 3-2-1A.

Nienke was ranked No. 2 when he faced Rhoades and despite the loss, TMP's budding star walked away a much better wrestler.

"It boosted my confidence knowing that I didn't get pinned by him or beat too badly ... I wasn't really afraid to wrestle anybody after that," Rhoades said.

"I did not expect to be even close to this good, but I know if I work hard there is a chance I can possibly get to state and hopefully place. But coming into the year I thought I was going to be a .500 wrestler."

Rhoades, ranked No. 4 at 113 pounds in Class 3-2-1A, is 22-8 this season after Saturday's Panther Classic in Phillipsburg.

He advanced to the semifinals before taking a default loss due to injury. He was set to face Norton senior Branson Addington, the No. 5-ranked wrestler in 3A, before defaulting.

Rhoades is coming off a season-defining 3-2 upset of Addington, then the No. 1-ranked wrestler in Class 3A, in the semifinals of the Western Kansas Tournament of Champions in Ellis on Feb. 1.

"He's improved every week. Just his determination -- you can't teach a kid not to like to lose," TMP wrestling coach Josh Peterson said. "I knew he had the talent and he had the work ethic. Good things happen to people that work hard, and he's worked hard all season long."

Peterson is also the head wrestling coach for the junior high, where he coached Rhoades a year ago. Rhoades has wrestled since fifth grade when his dad got him involved in the sport. He also plays football, has played basketball in the past, and plans to take part in track and field in the spring.

But when forced to choose, it's all about wrestling for the young Monarch.

"I've loved it ever since I began," Rhoades said. "I put everything I have into it."

Part of the reason Rhoades has become TMP's feature wrestler is because of a lack of depth. TMP currently has seven wrestlers on its squad: four freshman, two sophomores and one senior.

The lack of depth -- and senior leadership -- has hardly been a burden on the Monarchs. Rhoades has stepped into a leadership role not only on the mat, but also by recruiting other students to join the team next year. Add to that around a dozen junior high wrestlers that could move on to the high school level and you have the makings of a bright future for TMP wrestling.

"I'm trying to get more kids to come out. I've already got five or six kids that are pretty sure going to come out next year," Rhoades said. "Coach has talked to us about being a natural leader. To start off being a young leader will eventually make you a better leader."