“Every season is a journey. This one started off tragically,” said head coach Shawn Kelley. “But we are excited with how it is ending.”
The Broncos are sending four wrestlers to the NAIA national tournament in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend—three sophomores and one freshman. Kelley said each wrestler’s journey to this point has provided unexpected, but they pulled through.
Sophomore Alex Chanthapatheth is in his first year qualifying and has had to fight through injuries.
“Even though it was tough, I know there is always an end goal, which in this case was nationals,” Chanthapatheth said. “It feels great to be going because I know I have reached that goal.”
Another Bronco dealing with injuries this year is sophomore Jared Leithead. Kelley said Leithead also overcame personal struggles, but has been able to focus on becoming a stronger wrestler.
Blake Fruchtl is a true freshman, according to Kelley.
“Blake is a work horse,” Kelley said. “He led the team in wins and he just hates to lose.”
For Fruchtl, his journey has been a roller coaster for both him and the team, but it has brought them together and made everyone work harder. As a freshman, this is his first year at nationals and he hopes to be an All-American.
“My goal for the team, though, is for everyone to go out there and leave it on the mat,” Fruchtl said.
The last qualifier for the Broncos is one of the team’s veterans and has national tournament experience. Steadman Wang is one of the leaders on the team and has stayed healthy and maintained his weight this year. Wang has qualified for the second time now and is looking to get what he’s wanted since last year.
“Last year was my first time qualifying and it didn’t end the way I had hoped,” Wang said. “There is nothing that I want more than the title of an All-American.”
Kelley and his team are excited about taking these four to the tournament, but know that they could take more. However, the NAIA tournament changed its standards, only allowing 210 to qualify, over 100 less than it took in the past.
“We are excited, but at the same time, we know more could have gone if injuries and obstacles hadn’t happened,” Kelley said.
As the team prepares for Des Moines, practice and preparation have changed, allowing the guys to prepare physically and mentally. Minimizing distractions in the room, rotating new bodies and individualizing practice time are things that the Broncos do to ready themselves.
“We are all still pushing each other and coach emphasizes that just because not everybody made it, we are still a team so we all practice together,” Fruchtl said.
The Broncos plan to leave on Thursday, so they have time to practice and get some rest before they make weight. The tournament runs March 1-2.