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Young wrestlers at Pratt making big strides

Kahrie Stegman
Coaches, wrestlers and fans have created a family-supportive atmosphere within the Liberty Middle School wrestling program, which has seen exponential growth for this season in Pratt.

Liberty Middle School wrestlers are exceeding expectations, according to head coach Anthony Brown.

Even though they just started their season, they have already seen great success. They defeated both Larned and Hoisington in their first dual, and took first place at the Russell Invitational.

“The team has started off incredibly well,” Brown said.

Brown has seen every wrestler improve this season already, and is excited to see them improve the rest of the season.

Of the boy wrestlers, Brown is particularly impressed with Grayson Mandl and Dalton Slaughter.

“(They) exemplify what it means to be a Liberty Middle School wrestler,” Brown said. “Both of these young gentlemen work hard in practice and it shows on the mat.”

These young men have not just developed as wrestlers.

“They have become great leaders in the school as well as wrestling,” Brown said.

The number of girls wrestling has tripled since last year, going from 5 to 15 wrestlers. Girls have always been allowed to wrestle, but last year was the first year to offer brackets for girls at every event.

Many of the girls on the wrestling team have never stepped onto a mat before, but are buying into the system and already seeing success.

“I cannot wait to see how well these girls do in high school and beyond,” Brown said.

He said he thinks highly of every girl on the team, and has seen impressive athleticism and character in Lexi Blasi and Quinn Thibault.

Blasi has given her all to every match, no matter if she is competing against a boy, girl, or even someone significantly heavier than her by 10 to 15 pounds, Brown said.

“Lexi is our smallest wrestler but has one of the biggest hearts,” Brown said. “She is always going to go out there and leave everything she has on the mat.”

Thibault was the champion at last Friday’s tournament.

“Quinn has performed extremely well,” Brown said. “(She) is always willing to learn the next move.”

Brown has seen a lot of growth from the new wrestlers.

“I have one student in particular who lacked confidence when the season started. He won two matches and now walks down the hallway with his head held high knowing that he has the ability to do things he never believed he could do.”

Brown said his goals have been the same for the past four years of assistant coaching and head coaching wrestling.

One of his goals was to win against Larned and Hoisington, which they have already done. Other goals include winning the home tournament on Thursday, Feb. 20, and winning league.

Brown’s coaching goals are more personal to the athletes.

“My goal as a coach is to help these kids develop into responsible young adults, who have the ability to deal with difficult situations with dignity and class,” Brown said. “Wrestling is a sport unlike any other. You cannot blame your failures and mistakes on anyone but yourself, and that is what allows us as coaches to see the magnificent growth in these students.”

Brown said the team members have become a family and are always supporting each other.

“Our team has come together as a family most of all. I see us walking down the hallways with pride in our sweatshirts,” Brown said. “The experienced kids help the newbies grow and learn new moves.”

Since the beginning of the season, the wrestlers have already made strides in their confidence.

“My favorite part of coaching is watching the kids grow and have success,” Brown said. “These kids walk into the dungeon, our practice room, scared to make contact with another kid and unable to complete our basic warm-up. By the end of the season, they are walking with their heads held high with confidence, new friends who support them, and the knowledge that they can get through anything.”

Liberty Middle School hosts a home tournament on Thursday, Feb. 20.