BELL TOLLS ON NEW WRESTLING SEASON
JEREMY WALTNER – EDITOR & PUBLISHER
A brand-new wrestling facility like The Hangar at Freeman Public certainly doesn’t equate to success on the mat, but it certainly doesn’t hurt in building energy for the program, and that’s what head coach Chris Sayler is seeing at the onset of his 15th year as a coach for the Rebels.
“I’ve got a lot more numbers out and I’m expecting some big things now,” said Sayler, who is looking forward to watching and helping a group of underclassmen develop throughout the season and anchor the Marion/Freeman program for years to come. “We’ve got some of these younger kids who were wrestling out of position last year growing into their spots. And I’ve got some pretty good ones who can push other kids. Competition breeds competition in the room; if you have good practice partners, good workout partners, it makes everybody better.
“There have been a lot of years where we haven’t had that level of competition,” he continues, “but we’re getting it now more and more.”
Sayler and assistant coach Jeff Wollman are working with a roster of 17 young men and five young women, and of those 22, 17 are sophomores and younger.
“The kids that I’ve got coming up, from sophomores on down, in two years we’re going to be very competitive,” he said. “I’ve got two seniors (Owen Eitemiller and Zac Sayler) who have been around the sport forever, but we are a very young team.”
That means the Rebels may take some licks this season.
“They know it,” he said. “But it’s the same as any other sport — we’ve got to get better every week. Bottom line. You never stay the same. You’re either getting better or we’re getting worse.”
Marion/Freeman is returning three who qualified for the state tournament last season — Eitemiller from Menno; Riley Tschetter, a Freeman Public freshman who placed seventh at state at 132 lbs. last season; and Emma McConniel, a Marion sophomore who won a match at state in what was the first high school girls wrestling season in South Dakota.
Coach Sayler says there are others who might find their way through the Region 2B Tournament and onto the mats at the Summit Arena at The Monument out west. Among them are seventh graders Brody Gossen and Easton Tschetter, who will be battling for the 106 lb. slot until Tschetter can move up to 113 lbs.
“Both of them are tough as nails and I think either one of them could place in the state tournament this year,” he said. “Everybody wants to win. They see what’s out in front of them and they want to make that trip to Rapid City.”
The means toward that end has been taking place in The Hangar since practices began on Nov. 15, and Sayler says it’s great to have a home facility that’s part of the Freeman Public culture.
“For the last four years we’ve been off-campus at the community center and nobody knows what we were doing over there; there was no exposure,” said the coach. “Now they see it here, they see the wrestlers coming through, they see the room and they know what we’re doing in there.”
Hopefully, that will translate to success once the season starts this Saturday in Kimball, but Sayler and the Rebels know it’s going to be a grind.
“They know it,” he said. “This sport is a whole different animal that anything else a high school kid can do in school; when they step on the mat they’re put on an island and it’s not always against kids their own age, but you work with what you got.”
Sayler knows it could be two steps forward, one step back this season as the grapplers figure out their weights and make adjustments as necessary.
“We know we’re not going to be perfect and I’m not looking for perfection,” he said. “But I’m expecting hard work.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until you get on that mat in that first dual,” Sayler continued. “Practice is nothing like an actual match — getting the butterflies out. I’ve got a lot of young wrestlers and there are going to be a lot of nerves. Early on, I’m pretty much like, ‘Go out there and have fun.’”