Wolves open 2021 wrestling season at home Saturday

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

The Kane wrestling team is scheduled to return to the practice mats on Thursday when the high school returns to school after being remote since Monday. They are set to open their season Saturday at home against Cameron County. The match was originally scheduled for Thursday.

Head coach Mike Swartwood admits starting and stopping due to COVID has been tough. High school sports were shut down due to a state-mandated stoppage on Dec. 13 until Jan. 4 when Kane and other districts across the state were green-lighted to get back at it.

Despite the stoppages, the Kane coach, who earned his 100th career win last season, praised the mind-set of his team when they returned.

“The kids had great attitudes up to our last practice (Jan. 7). The [long] layoff didn’t seem to have affected them. My hat’s off to them,” he said noting he might not have been during his hay day. “I’m sure at that age I would have been very frustrated. I would hope to think I had their type of attitude but I have my doubts so they need to be commended for being so positive.”

Swartwood hopes to see the same when they return on Thursday. “They were happy to be there and were looking to get rolling again and then they just got it pulled out from underneath them again. I think having a match will keep them in the same mind frame.”

Wrestlers will be required to wear masks while competing. The Kane coach, who is entering his 12th season at the helm, was honest with his assessment of the situation.

“I finished a workout with them last week and it wasn’t easy. I got a taste of what these guys are going through and it’s tough. I have to be honest – I really don’t know how they’re going to do it but where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.

While understanding the need for safety, Swartwood again was honest when talking about the effect on the sport.

“We know we have to follow the rules and what they’re for but, with wrestling, it’s just so strange. There’s constant contact during a match with sweat flying but as soon as the match is over they can’t shake hands. Again – it’s the rules but it’s just kind of strange.”

He expects the enforcing of masks will be ruled as “an equipment time out,” when they come down or off during competition.

No matter the circumstances the 1990 Kane High graduate is happy of the efforts being made to have a season.

“They want to compete. You don’t sign up for wrestling without being a competitor. These kids are chomping at the bit to get back at it and do their thing. I’m right there with them. Obviously, you don’t coach for the money or the accolades you do it because you like the competition and love the sport,” he said.

Kane will be competing in the IU9 Bubble as it did during the fall against teams from McKean, Elk, Cameron, and Potter Counties. Swartwood is happy to have matches but feels it may not give his grapplers a chance to reach their full potential beyond the regular season.

“The kids in the IU9 Bubble are going to be behind the eight-ball. We’re only wrestling six or seven schools and we’re not sure we’ll get two matches in with each of those teams. It’s frustrating not to be able to go outside our bubble which is going to make things tough when we get into the post-season. I am thankful though that we’re at least going to get matches in,” he said. “We have a nice team which is what makes it kind of frustrating. This is one of those years where we’re going to be covering most of the weights. I don’t have a 106-pounder but I can move everybody else to cover pretty much all the weights. I’ll be sending kids out that have ability.”

While not wrestling outside the IU9 could hinder his team when it comes to District 9 seeding, Swartwood feels things will play out at the tournament. “I think that’s the least of our worries. Sometimes you have kids that are really just out there. It’s great they’re getting the experience but sometimes there are huge mismatches in the preliminary rounds so I don’t see district seeding as too big of a deal. Now, it’s not always the case but sometimes kids are thrown in as a seventh or eighth seed with a losing record so, things should play out as you would expect.”

There is a change before the state tournament. Just eight wrestlers in each of the 13 classes will advance to Hershey. Following districts, wrestlers will compete as normal at the Northwest Regionals but then move on to a super-regional which will include the top wrestlers from the Southwest Region as well. The other super-regional includes the top four wrestlers from both the South and North East regions.

“That’s going to be a tough one. The super-regionals are going to pretty much be the first round of states. The cream is going to rise to the top. The four kids that move onto states from ours will definitely have earned a medal,” Swartwood said. The top four from each super-regional are guaranteed medals at states.

The Kane coach appreciates the cooperation of IU9 athletic directors and all involved with the sport and is grateful his team has Jason Barner in charge.

“Jason is top shelf. He’s someone that makes sure he dots the I’s and crosses the T’s. We’re fortunate to have him. I wouldn’t want to be an athletic director. I went in and talked to Jason one day and he had so many calls it was hard to carry on the conversation. It’s not just like you call a school and say we have to cancel. He has to call the refs, the video crews, the people working the matches, and make sure the place is ready before and after. I’m not sure how he keeps up with all of it,” Swartwood said.

When the Wolves host Cameron County the Kane coach will be relieved. He also knows things during the season can change at a moment’s notice.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get wrestling in. I want to compete. I want these kids to get this opportunity. They deserve it. I’m not typically a pessimist but sometimes I feel like things are turning me that way. I’m very optimistic about wrestling but it’s quite a challenge. We just have to take it a day at a time.”

The Wolves middle school team will kick things off Saturday at 10 a.m. vs. the Red Raiders with the varsity match to follow. Seniors Dillon Illerbrun, Gabriel Lehman, and Isaac Smith will be recognized before the match.

Other members of the 2021 Wolves include juniors Alex Bechakas, Mason Milliron, Harley Morris, Shawn Nystrom, and Derek Peterson; sophomores Nicholas Asp, Brady Danielson, Luke Ely, Isaak Johnson, Logan Johnson, and Addison Plants; and freshmen Reece Bechakas, Carter Himes, Ethan Illerbrun, Blaine Tadder, and Ben Walter.