The Altus Bulldog wrestling team gathered together in front of family and friends at the Cletus B. Street Field House on Thursday night for the annual Blue and White Bash. It was the team’s debut in front of the Altus crowd and featured wrestlers from the junior high and high school battling each other on the mats to give the fans a taste of what the season has in store.
It is a much different team from last year’s group, but coach Nick Williams said it is a group that has a bright future.
“We’re still up in weight,” Williams said. “We have some kids out of the lineup because of weight and we have some kids that are up a weight in lineup. It may take us two to four weeks to get to our destination as far as weight control, but once we do, we’re going to have a pretty solid lineup and more success.”
The purpose of the Blue and White Bash is to allow Williams and assistant coach Jay Benway an opportunity to assess each wrestler’s capabilities in the different weight classes. Aside from giving the fans a view of this year’s team, it gives the coaches an opportunity to better form the junior varsity and varsity squads.
Williams said he was impressed with the level of competition and the amount of wrestlers who stepped up and made it count when it mattered the most.
“After Thursday’s Blue and White Bash…” Williams said, “I was really impressed with how all 37 kids scrapped. They showed a lot of heart and they have been dedicated in the room and I’m really excited about this season. There are a lot of new faces but it’s not about rebuilding, it’s about reloading and finding out who the next man up is going to be, so I’m excited about the year and I’m excited about seeing what these young men can do at the end of the year in February.”
Williams said the team program has experienced an increase in athletes and he currently has 40 wrestlers on the roster. He also said that number could go up or down as January rolls around but that still remains to be seen.
“I’m excited about the numbers…” Williams said, “the kids are working hard. We’re going to be able to fill a full JV and a full varsity so that looks good for the future, but it’s December. We’ve started out with 40 before and ended up with about 30-35, but I believe in these kids here. They’ve been through some tough practices so I think they’ll stick with it. Some of them may not do it next year but I have a strong feeling that they’ll finish the year, for sure.”
While there may be plenty of new faces in the wrestling room, there are plenty of recognizable faces in there as well.
State qualifier Kobi Gomez returns and looks to follow the in the footsteps of his father, Neno Gomez, and brother, Gage Gomez, and become a state champion. In July, Gomez competed in a week-long intensive wrestling camp at Oklahoma State University where he finished with an 18-0 record and earned Camper of the Week recognition.
Also returning are state qualifiers Garrett Pride, Juan Centeno and 195-pound state runner up Cabe Dickerson.
Williams said he expects a few to step up and be leaders on the mats.
“Kobi and Juan are going to lead the room…” Williams said, “as far as work ethic is concerned, but if we can get some kids to follow them, it’s going to be a real successful year.”
Williams said that will help lock some of the younger athletes in and although wrestlers such as Josue Arroyo, Kamron Canchola and Keegan Pride are now gone, Williams said he sees the same talent and ability in a lot of the younger wrestlers.
“We do have the Gage’s and Cancholas…” Williams said, “those guys didn’t just show up, put their shoes on and win a state title or two state medals, they had to go through the grind, the lump and the ups and downs. That’s one of the good things about our program is that we do have those kids, we just have to push the kids to the limit to where they’re willing to find a way to be that successful. We just haven’t decided which ones are going to step up.”
The actual season begins today at Amarillo Tascosa High School, but Williams said there will be some ups and downs before he can find out where the team is.
“Mid-January is the Carl Albert tournament,” Williams said. “It’s all Class 5A teams there and it will be a good place to judge where we’re at at that level a month before regionals. We also have the Allen, Texas tournament right before Christmas which is just a pool tournament to get better. The Mid-America is the same way and the Geary tournament is as tough as a boot, but there’s only one good judge and that’s next month.”
Williams said there won’t be a whole lot of surprises to him once the season gets underway, but there might be a few surprises for people who haven’t been around the program much to see some of the younger athletes wrestle.
“I know what they can do, but the fans haven’t seen what they can do,” Williams said. “Chase Epperson will be a surprise once we figure out what weight he’s going to be at. Domingo Garcia is a freshman who beat a sophomore at the Blue and White Bash. He’s a hard worker and loves to scrap so he’s a surprise. We have a lot of kids that are hard nosed and grinders. Kids like JoJo Buxton who hasn’t wrestled that much but was real close to going to the state tournament last year.”
Some of the wrestlers have come up through the Team Worx wrestling program, a program for younger athletes to get into wrestling and learn. Williams said it has helped feed the junior high and high school program.
“Team Worx keeps the kids coming,” Williams said. “The junior high program, I’m really excited about. There are 30 solid kids and 10 – 12 of them really love to scrap and once we get them dialed in to technique, they’re going to find a lot of success. It may not be right off the bat but eventually it’ll bleed into the high school program.”
The next action for the Bulldogs will be in Enid at 7 p.m. Dec. 7.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.