By AUSTIN COLBERT
PHILLIPSBURG -- Phillipsburg High School junior Luke Jacobs received a photograph following his regional championship win in WaKeeney last weekend. What surprised the 220-pounder was the high number of people on the side of the mat cheering for him.
And it's this enthusiasm from all the members of the Phillipsburg wrestling team that has the Panthers excited about their chances on Friday and Saturday at the Class 3-2-1A state wrestling tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.
"It's going to help the team because I think we can place top three at state," Phillipsburg senior Michael Dusin said. "That's been a goal for our whole team this year, to bring a trophy home from state. I mean, Norton is going to be tough to beat, but second is right in there for us."
While wrestling is an individual sport, the Panthers know there is something to be said about having an entire cheering section at your side during a match.
Last year, Phillipsburg took four wrestlers to state -- including 106-pound state champion Kyle Witmer -- and finished 11th as a team.
This year the Panthers qualified eight for the state tournament, six of which are seniors, and are hopeful their numbers will get them a state medal for the first time since a second-place finish in 2008.
"Instead of just individual goals, now we can start getting some team goals. We can work off of each other," senior 126-pounder Riley Juenemann said. "If a couple of us start winning, we can try to keep it rolling and we will always have someone to cheer on since we are spread out. It will be fun."
The Panthers will be serious contenders for a top three finish on Saturday after taking second to mighty Norton Community High School in its regional. Phillipsburg also will have numerous opportunities for strong individual performances and has hopes of adding to its list of state champions, despite having only two wrestlers with any state tournament experience.
Here is a look at Phillipsburg's top medal candidates.
Senior Riley Juenemann -- 126 pounds
If anyone is deserving of finally getting to state, it's Juenemann, the No. 3-ranked wrestler in Class 3-2-1A, who is 30-9 this season and took second place in regionals to Rawlins County's Macrae Migchelbrink.
"He is one of our captains, he is one of our leaders. He is one of those guys that does everything right, does everything you ask of him," Phillipsburg coach Joe Buresh said. "It's exciting to see a senior that's been after it a long time get a chance to go down to state and hopefully win some matches and maybe get in that medal round."
Juenemann was 34-14 last season and was a match win away from qualifying for state. The main training partner of Dusin, arguably Phillipsburg's best wrestler, Juenemann credits coming so close to state a year ago as his main motivation for this season.
"Last year not making it really drove me this year," Juenemann said. "He (Dusin) kicks my butt in practice, I'll tell you that. It's not fun, but it gets me better. He knows what he is doing and just going against someone like him really makes me better."
Juenemann will face Hesston's Mason Schweitzer (29-7) in the first round.
Senior Mason Bannister -- 132 pounds
Bannister is one of two state qualifiers from a year ago, having gone 0-2. While he is only 22-16 this season, he has turned it on at the right time. Bannister broke his hand the weekend before practice started this year after dropping the hood of his car on it, forcing him to miss about two weeks.
He had an up and down season and it wasn't until regionals, where he took third, that everything finally came together for him.
"I was really motivated at the beginning of the season, but one tournament I had a bad tournament," Bannister said. "That's when I started to have doubts. I couldn't come out of it. Then at regionals something clicked and it was totally different the way I wrestled."
Bannister will face Silver Lake's Hunter Howerton (33-6) in the first round.
Senior Michael Dusin -- 145 pounds
Nobody enters the state tournament with higher expectations than Dusin after losing in the state semifinals last year at 138 pounds. He is ranked as the No. 2 wrestler at 145 pounds in Class 3-2-1A and enters the state tournament with a 39-2 record after his first-place finish at regionals.
"I think he puts enough pressure on himself and we as coaches just want to see him go out and be successful," Buresh said. "He's a guy that has been in our lineup a long time and is a guy that is going to be missed a lot in the future. So we are just excited about his chances this weekend and with a chance to maybe bring home a state medal and see where the ride takes him."
Dusin has qualified for state every year as a high school wrestler. He went 2-2 as a freshman at 130 pounds and took sixth at 138 pounds as a sophomore before his run to the semifinals last year.
"I've been there before and it will help me out a lot. It's my senior year and it's my last shot. I hope to go out with a bang," Dusin said. "Wrestling you just go out there and see what happens. I think experience is big in a lot of tournaments, but at the state tournament it's going to be real big."
Dusin will face Burden Central's Dax Stephens (10-10) in the opening round.
Junior Luke Jacobs -- 220 pounds
Buresh calls Luke Jacobs a "matchup nightmare for other wrestlers." The top-ranked wrestler in his weight class, the wiry Jacobs is a little over 6-foot-6, a rare big man in a sport full of short, stocky athletes.
Jacobs added about 20 pounds during the summer to move up from the 195 pounds last season, where he went 25-16 and finished a match away from qualifying for state. The added weight has led him to a 35-5 record this season and a regional championship.
"I've gotten a lot stronger and more coordinated. I was tall last year but I didn't have much muscle on me," Jacobs said. "(Being tall) leaves my legs open a lot. I have a lot of legs. They can shoot on me pretty easy, but I'm quick enough to defend them a little bit."
Jacobs will face Chase County's Clayton Jackson (22-11) in the first round.
The rest of the team
Phillipsburg has three other seniors qualified for state, all first time qualifiers. Hunter Kohler (26-16) took second at 160 pounds in the regional, Andrew Makings (12-10) took third at 182 pounds, and Seth Boswell (23-13) second at 195 pounds. The lone underclassmen to qualify for state is sophomore heavyweight Donovan Lumpkin (24-8), who finished third at regionals.
"Donovan, he's had a real good year," Buresh said. "He got a lot stronger over the summer as well and that's a tribute to him. It's just nice to see those younger guys qualify so we have some of that back in our wrestling room next year."
The Panthers will be looking for their second state title, the first coming in 1987.