February 21, 2014

Fightin' Chicks take first steps toward state in Del City regional

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


Chickasha wrestlers have spent the better part of four months working toward these next few weeks.

Starting today, they'll hit the mat and take their first step toward a regional tournament performance worthy of qualifying for state. Like most teams, they have their top seeds that are expected to challenge not just in Del City this weekend but at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in a week's time when the best wrestlers in the state converge and compete.

But in the postseason, anything can happen.

"Regionals is a weird thing," head coach Chad Randle said. "There are always kids not there that were supposed to be because of grades, injuries; somebody didn't pull their weight right, the stress level made them wrestle weird, or whatever. I've always had kids go that weren't supposed to. We've been stressing don't count yourself out."

Four of the Fightin' Chicks' team -- sophomore Dakota Resendez, junior Riley Williams, senior Triston Hill and senior and defending state champion Josh Latham -- are expected to be seeded inside the top four in their weight class. It gives them the best possible chance to qualify, with four advancing from each weight.

"Hopefully, they do their job to get in," Randle said. "We don't even talk about state; this is the last week of practice unless you get the bonus round."

The situation is slightly different for the undefeated Latham. Like his teammates, he spent the week preparing, both mentally and physically, for the challenge ahead; but he'll also be looking at the prospect of keeping his dream of being named two-time state champion within sight.

"I think part of getting ready for state is to forget ever being there; remember why I want it, why I started," Latham said.  "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not a state champion. Last year is over and done with. That'll always be there."

Last year it was Jacoby Brown who won back-to-back state championships, the first wrestler to do that at Chickasha in program history. Latham said he keeps that achievement by Brown, a close friend of his, as motivation, but his thoughts are strictly on this campaign and the landscape of competitors in front of him.

That's because the landscape was changing right up until the Thursday weight deadline. There is plenty of maneuvering, or at least talk of it, ahead of this year's regionals. Hill, who has wrestled most of the year at 160-pounds and sits at 40-2, may stick to his weight or be bumped up to 170. Whatever happens, Hill said he is prepared.

"It doesn't bother me; it's just another match," Hill said. "If coach Randle wants me to bump up to 170, I'll bump up. I feel great. I've lost two matches, but that just makes me hungrier for the title. I'm going in knowing I'm not the best, so that makes me compete even harder."

Hill and junior Williams have been improving their footwork all season, Randle said, making them a bigger threat on offense. He said they have made big improvements and he doesn't see why they can't compete with the best. Williams will most likely compete at a very competitive 182-pound weight class.

For all wrestlers at this level, Randle said he stresses mental toughness at this stage of the season the most, since it will make the biggest difference late on in close matches that could make or break a season.

"Everybody's going to be tired and exhausted in the big matches," he said. "The key is the kids that are going to be able to gear their thinking toward winning or scoring a point instead of how tired they feel. Weaker minded kids think more about how they feel, while the stronger minded kids bypass that to get the job done. We'll see if we can get that job done later."