It certainly wasn’t the win he wanted it to end with, but Ryan Johnson went out in style.
Capping a standout prep career with Norton Community High School, the senior wrestler for the Bluejays and youngest son of head coach Bill Johnson grabbed his fourth state medal.
The only downside was it wasn’t the gold the senior had hoped to grab in his final campaign.
Instead, Johnson capped his Class 3-2-1A wrestling career Saturday with a third-place state showing at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Johnson defeated Phillipsburg senior Josh Lenker for the fifth time this season, an 11-1 major decision for the bronze.
“I’m proud of myself for what I did. Put it all on the line,” Ryan Johnson said. “Tried my hardest, no matter what match it was.”
It came after Johnson dropped a 9-6 decision to top-ranked Riley Tubbs of Wabaunsee in Friday’s semifinals.
It was one of several No. 1 vs. No. 2 semifinal bouts. Tubbs, who was second last season to Hoxie’s Dayton Porsch, went on to Saturday’s final against Scott City’s Kaden Wren, the No. 4 ranked wrestler.
“Everybody in the building, if you know wrestling, you know some of those were the finals matches,” Coach Johnson said of the semifinals.
Tubbs agreed Friday’s semifinal against Johnson had a title feel.
“We’ve been training for it all year,” Tubbs said. “We knew we were going to see him at some point.”
Still, Ryan Johnson battled back through two matches Saturday following the loss. He defeated Lyons’ Chris Goanes, 14-0, before putting the finishing touches on a fourth state medal.
“Coming back home with a third-place medal — my fourth medal — it’s something I’ll be proud of forever,” he said.
The win was a bit bittersweet for Coach Johnson. On the one hand, it was great for his son to go out with a victory.
On the other, it’s the last of his three sons to sport the blue and yellow. Johnson coached three sons in the Norton program, all of them collecting state championships at some point in their careers.
“My last one,” Coach Johnson said with a big smile. “I have three grandchildren, but I can guarantee you I won’t be around for them.
“It was kind of nice to go out as a dad like that.”
Ryan, who plans to wrestle at the college level but is unsure where, said he will miss the grind of competing for the Bluejays, which saw their string of an astounding five straight 3-2-1A state titles come to an end.
“Just for sure wanted to come out of my last match as a Bluejay with a win,” he said. “I’ve loved every second of being in high school and wrestling for Norton.”
The only thing that could have made it better — aside from it being a second straight championship — was if Norton would have been in the running for a team trophy. The Bluejays, though, in what Coach Johnson labeled a “major rebuilding year,” knew it probably wasn’t going to be even on the radar this time around.
Norton captured four medals out of its five qualifiers, and nearly snuck into the fifth-place spot, a goal it set out for.
“If we could sneak into the top five, that would be a major accomplishment,” the coach said.
Still ,the Bluejays got fifth-place showings from senior Tevin Petrie at 182 pounds and Cole Amlong at 160 pounds, while securing fourth place out of Hayden Wiltfong at 195.
Petrie earned a state medal in his first qualification. He started the year at 170, but decided 182 was where he stood his best shot.
“I know he wanted to place higher, and he certainly has the capability,” Coach Johnson said, adding Petrie also spent about a month injured before making the return to the Goodland regional to earn the qualification.
During the season, the Bluejays also lost Trenton Chisholm, a returning state placer, and Collyn Auker, the defending 285-pound state champion, to season-ending injuries.
THIRDS — Oberlin senior Kel Grafel came into the state tournament ranked No. 2 at 126 pounds. After suffering a 6-2 decision Friday to Silver Lake senior Jordan Priddy, Grafel had to settle for taking third place in dominant fashion. Grafel won back-to-back matches, one via pin, then a 13-6 decision against Wellsville’s Ethan Ewing to secure third place. It was the second medal in three tries for Grafel.
Goodland senior Dawson Ensign, whose team was in 3-2-1A for the first time in several years, came away with a bronze showing. Ensign pinned Caney Valley’s Zane Stanton in 3 minutes, 54 seconds, upholding his No. 3 ranking.
Osborne senior Spencer Heise, who entered the state field at 40-1, wrapped his career with a 44-2 record and third-place showing at 145. Heise defeated Lakin’s Johnny Perez, 5-2 for the bronze. That came after Heise fell via pin to standout junior Dayton Porsch, who hadn’t lost since his freshman season. Heise defeated Oberlin’s Isaiah Mason to make the third-place match.
St. Francis senior Trayton Doyle, after missing last year’s tournament with injury, bounced back to finish 26-3 in his final campaign, picking up a 1-0 decision against Marion junior Charlie Nordquist. Doyle fell to Hoxie’s Chris Cox in Friday’s semifinals.
TWO THIRDS FOR COLBY — In its first trip to the Class 3-2-1A state tourney — after dropping from 4A — the Colby Eagles had two bronze showings. Rathe Aschenbrenner (20-7) defeated Phillipsburg’s Aaron Lenker via 9-2 decision to grab the medal Saturday at 106 pounds, while Sean Rall took third at 152 with a 40-5 record. Rall defeated Rock Hills’ Zane Colson for the medal. The Eagles also had a fourth-place finisher in 170-pounder Kory Finley.