Thomas More Prep-Marian junior Tucker Rhoades could feel the effects of a broken tibia against Buhler’s Justin Hershberger in the 132-pound championship match Saturday at the Bob Kuhn Prairie Class at Hays High School.
The injury that occurred during football season has healed for the most part. The days of stopping practice to ice his leg are mostly behind Rhoades, but after missing the first month of the season, he’s still catching his breath.
His coach, Dakota Hayes, was confident Rhoades would represent the Monarchs in Saturday’s championship round, but also knew a title wouldn’t come easily.
“I knew he had a good shot to get in the finals, but Hershberger, he’s a tough opponent,” Hayes said. “The kid he saw in the semis from Campus, he’s a tough kid. We just gotta wrestle the way we wrestle and see where it goes.”
Rhoades controlled the championship match early. He scored a takedown late in the opening period, the first score of the match. He went up 4-0 in the second period before a Hershberger reversal made it 4-2 to start the final two minutes. The TMP junior held on for a 5-4 win.
Rhoades’ leg felt fine, but he knows he still has work left to get his conditioning where it needs to be after missing the early part of the season.
“(I felt like I controlled the match) for the most part until the end,” Rhoades said. “He was in a little better shape than I was.”
He still has a little way to go, but after winning back-to-back tournaments, he’s also surpassing his coach’s expectations for his return to the mat.
“We’re farther along than what I expected,” Hayes said. “Coming in late to the wrestling season, it’s tough because those matches before Christmas break are really important just to build conditioning.”
Even with the delayed start, Rhoades carries a 20-1 record coming off individual championships at Scott City and the Bob Kuhn Prairie Classic.
Although his only loss to date came at Norton’s J.R. Durham Invitational, where he lost to Manhattan’s Devin Norris, the most recent tournament featured the deepest bracket.
“This is probably the best competition we’ve seen all year,” Hayes said.
The junior hopes his weekend performance will provide a boost for the course of the season.
“It feels good to win a first big tournament of the year,” Rhoades said. “It’ll give me confidence going into next week and then into regionals.”
After qualifying, and nearly placing, at the 4A state meet a year ago, the TMP junior has plans of going back. This time it will be the 3-2-1A meet, where he hopes to medal, if not win it all. If Rhoades is to do that, it’ll be because of his mental prowess, which he considers his greatest strength.
“Wrestling with my head,” Rhoades answered when asked of his greatest skill. “I’m not the strongest. I’m not the fastest. I’m not the most in condition. I just try to use a little bit of skill, listen to my coaches and keep being aware of the time and placement.”
When his physical tools catch up with his psychological strengths, his coach believes a deep run at state is a strong possibility.
“He’s got a good chance to qualify and make some noise at state tournament,” Hayes said. “I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Rhoades and 138-pounder Ricky Hockett, who placed sixth Saturday, contributed 39 of the Monarchs’ 48 points for the weekend, helping TMP finish tied for 16th place with Phillipsburg in the 24-team field. The junior-senior combination is leading an inexperienced TMP wrestling team to better results after the team was regularly found near the bottom of the team score totals a year ago.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement from last year,” Hayes said of his team. “That’s something I’m pleased with.
“Him and Ricky Hockett, our 138, they’re kinda the forefront guys that kinda take over and push people along.”