By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hays High School sophomore Austin Dale has wrestled nearly as long as he has been able to walk. But even though he has competed at the state level since he was 5, expectations weren't overly great for him entering high school.
At least, until he started to take over the practice mat.
"I didn't really think of it the first couple weeks of practice, until I started beating kids I should have been beating in the practice room," Dale said. "Then I was asked to be on the varsity squad and started winning matches there and now it's got me to be 12-2 this year. I wouldn't have expected it as a freshman, but it happens."
Dale, who wrestles at 152 pounds, is off to a hot start this season. He took second in the season-opening Campus Invitational in Haysville before an undefeated run through the Colby tournament last week.
On Thursday at the HHS gym in the Indians' first home dual of the season against both Pratt and Plainville, Dale showed he should be expected to be one of their top wrestlers this season, despite going 1-1 on the day.
"Austin's been wrestling real well for us. He has two losses on the year right now. That's a tough kid. He battles hard," HHS wrestling coach John Hafliger said. "He wrestled on varsity for us last year, so he's got a lot of experience on the varsity level. And it's showing. He's strong and he's pretty coachable, too."
Hays High went 2-0 on Thursday, defeating undermanned Pratt 45-21 and Plainville 48-21.
Dale's loss came against Pratt's Hudson Swift in a 4-0 decision. He responded in his second match, earning a hard-fought 6-4 decision over Plainville's Chase Werner even after Werner had him under control a couple of times.
"It's a real good match to end the day with," Dale said. "Losing to the Pratt kid, I was real nervous all day long just thinking about him because he's one of the better ones out there. Then came back with the Plainville kid. I knew I couldn't go 0-2 today, so I had to win a match. Just went in and that was one of the better things."
Hays High's lone ranked wrestler, senior Ethan Deterding (No. 2 at 182 pounds in Class 4A), only saw the mat once on Thursday, an easy win over Pratt's Camdon Sweet via fall in 56 seconds. He earned the forfeit win over Plainville, as the Cardinals didn't have a wrestler in his weight class.
The Indians heaviest wrestlers, Brayden Dorzweiler (195) and Braydon Delzeit (220) sat out both duals without anyone of weight to compete with. HHS doesn't have a true heavyweight wrestler this season.
"It is early in the season. I thought our kids wrestled real, real well tonight. Pratt and Plainville both have very good teams," Hafliger said. "That's what I told them. I go, 'From what we did last week out at Colby to what we did today, we had huge, huge improvements.' And that's what we needed to make. I was pleased with our kids today. I thought our effort was good. I thought we battled hard. We didn't win them all, but we wrestled hard in all of them."
HHS's Conrad Vajnar (138 pounds) was the only Indian to go 2-0 on the day, outside of forfeits.
Hays High will compete once more before the break when they travel to the Ellsworth Invitational on Saturday.
Plainville's Mick filling big shoes
Plainville High School senior Devon Mick wrestled alongside Dylan Wiesner as a freshman. Wiesner, now a freshman wrestler at Fort Hays State University, was last year's 170-pound state champion in Class 3-2-1A. He was also state runner-up as a junior.
Mick's high school wrestling career hasn't been as smooth, but has potential to finish as strong as Wiesner's. Mick struggled as a freshman, didn't wrestle as a sophomore after playing basketball, and spent the bulk of his junior season at De Soto High School before transferring back to Plainville for his senior year.
He is currently ranked No. 5 in Class 3-2-1A at 170 pounds, directly taking over the same role and weight Wiesner held just a year ago.
"I haven't wrestled since my freshman year. He was always my practice partner, so it was kind of fun to fill his shoes now," Mick said of Wiesner. "I was a little rusty at first, but I'm starting to get it all back now ... (I have) really high goals. I like where I'm sitting. Hopefully we can just keep rising after break."
Mick was untouchable on Thursday, getting wins over Pratt's Hayden Skaggs and Hays High's Tathan Burkhart, both via fall in 41 seconds. The remainder of the Plainville wrestlers didn't fair as well, leaving coach Corey Dobson wanting a little more out of his team.
"We are a pretty young team. We did lose a lot from last year," Dobson said. The Cardinals also lost state qualifiers Trevor Desaire and Adam Gehring from a season ago. "But I do have some good leaders in the room. Tonight didn't show that, though. I'm not going to sleep very well tonight at all. The way we wrestled is not acceptable."
Pratt defeated Plainville 33-21 in their portion of the double dual.