By JASON ELMQUIST
It was a year of vindication for senior Joey Dozier. After a disappointing end to his junior season — a third place finish at the Class 6A state tournament — Dozier came into his final season at Garden City High School will lofty goals and great expectations.
The target was always on the 145-pound wrestler as he was ranked No. 1 in Class 6A in the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association's preseason poll. And he never relinquished the spot — not once. The stellar senior season propelled Dozier to being named The Telegram's All-area Wrestler of the Year — for the second straight season.
"It's a big honor," Dozier said. "Last year, I didn't really know those awards got handed out, but this year I was fighting to win it. And now that I got it again, it's just an honor."
After rolling through the regional tournament, the talented senior had no troubles reaching the semifinals of the state tournament — winning his first two matches by fall in the first period. But unlike in his junior season, the monkey that was the semifinals was finally ripped from his back as he knocked off Olathe Northwest's Connor Middleton to reach the championship match against Derby's Cody Shavlik — a wrestler Dozier had beat earlier in the year. Making it more emotional was seeing his fellow senior Lane Greenlee winning a state title of his own in the 130-pound weight class right before his own match.
"It was great to see him win one," Dozier said. "It kind of gave me the drive and the dedication. It just really inspired me to win it, too. And once we both won it, it was a great feeling because we both are leaving the high school as state champions."
With the pressure of reaching the final off his back, Dozier wasn't going to let another year end in disappointment. The senior pinned Shavlik in the final period to earn his first-ever state championship.
"It's sunk in, but it hasn't worn off yet," Dozier said. "I'm still as happy as ever and I still get comments about it and get congratulated all the time. It's just a great feeling."
Dozier's only "blemish" on his record was a 4-3 loss to Ponderosa's (Colo.) Jacob Snider, who was nationally ranked, in the finals of the Rocky Welton Invitational as he finished with a 37-1 record.
"I got a little gassed in the match and it hurt me quite a bit," Dozier said. "But it taught me to just be more aggressive when I'm on my feet and that's something I'm going to try to do in college. A lot of the kids that I will face will be just as good as him, if not better."
Dozier plans to continue wrestling at the next level. After winning the state title, he took a visit to Fort Hays State University were he gave a verbal commitment and must wait until April 14 — the first day of the signing period — to sign his letter of intent.
"I gave them a verbal commitment and if I'm absolutely sure that's where I want to go, I'll sign on April 14," Dozier said. "There's a few other colleges that I have talked to, but I'm pretty sure Fort Hays will probably be my pick for college."
Wrestling is a team sport that relies on individuals doing well. The individual does well if he is determined, but he also needs a team behind him.
That's the case with junior Aaron Anguiano, a Garden City High School wrestler who found he had something to prove this season. And with self-determination and a supportive group behind him, he found success at the state level, placing third at 125 pounds in Class 6A.
Going 39-8 on the season might seem good enough, but Anguiano would have liked 40 because that would have meant a shot at the title. Last season, an injury in regionals was the only thing that stopped him at 119 pounds.
"That was a good way to come back," he said of his rebound. "It was a slap in the face for those people who doubted me, I guess you could say."
Anguiano said that he knew he should have made it to state last year. His freshman year, he got beat out by a senior he had beaten all year. So being a junior gave him a sense of urgency to get to the state event.
"I felt that I was running out of time," he said. "I knew I needed to commit to it."
His secret? He wrestles for a team that is aggressive.
"Almost everyone on our team, we have our own styles. But somewhere in our style of wrestling we find a way to put aggression into it. That, and I know a lot of people on the team have a lot of heart and they hate to lose," he said.
Garden City, he added, has a legacy of winning and being good. It's a tradition that helps to motivate the team every year.
Anguiano has been wrestling since he was nine, and in the succeeding eight years, he's still not sure what appeals to him about the sport.
"Cutting all the weight, the strenuous practices, I ask myself, why do I do this'?" he laughed. "I've never come up with an answer. I just know I can't let myself quit. I've been doing it too long, and I love the sport. In the end when you win, it's worth it."
Placing third this year has only served to motivate him for next year. He hopes to stay at 125, but if he has to move up, he plans to be a good, strong 130-pounder.
One of the biggest surprises for the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling program this season had to be Anthony Calderon.
The 103-pounder missed winning the state 6A title by the slimmest of margins, taking home a runner-up medal and motivation for next year.
And all this while he's still not yet legal to have a driver's license.
The 15-year-old sophomore had a remarkable run this season considering his weight class. Competing at the lightest division is tough enough with small, quick wrestlers.
It's even tougher when you're trying to make weight all the time.
Calderon said he had to drop nine pounds at the start of the season just to get down to that weight class. He struggled to stay there the rest of the season. And the night before finals at state, he was jogging beneath the bleachers with teammates just to make weight for Saturday's round.
But it certainly was worth it.
At the beginning of the season, he said, he didn't think placing second in state was possible. "I didn't even think getting down to 103 was possible," he laughed.
"I worked really hard during practices," he said of success. "The only hard thing was keeping my weight down. I showed up to every practice I could, and all the guys in the room helped to push everybody. I'm sure that helped."
Calderon started wrestling when he was four, and for the past 11 years he's motivated himself by just wanting to get better, he said.
As a freshman, he used that motivation to place fourth at state. This year he was second. It's safe to assume, then, that he has his sights set on being number one the next two years.
"I'll probably go up a weight class or two," he said, "whatever's comfortable for me."
As a junior next year, Calderon said he'll still look up to the upperclassmen for leadership because he respects what they have done within the program. But he will also look to his fellow juniors to be leaders because they all share the same goal — winning the state title.
When he was a freshman, Lakin's Dalton Davis pulled off the nearly unthinkable: he won a state title at 112 pounds in Class 3-2-1A.
One year later and one weight class higher, he finished fifth.
This year at 130 pounds, he found some redemption by finishing second.
But don't think Davis was out to prove something to anyone following his fifth-place finish. That's not the way this high school junior operates.
"I don't let last year bug me because I knew it was kind of a fluke that happened (losing in the quarterfinals) because I was looking at my next match and wasn't paying attention," he said. "It just happened."
Wrestling is not a religion for Davis. He also plays some football and he likes to rodeo. Wrestling is just an activity where he has the burden of performance mainly on his shoulders.
"I like it because it's just me. I don't have to depend on anyone else. You could say you have to depend on your coaches, but you're the one out there having to work for it," he said.
Davis started wrestling when he was four, but he took time off for a few years until middle school when Lakin started a school program.
His style of wrestling is both defensive and physical.
"I'm not going to make it easy on you," he said. "It's always going to be a close match. I know when I need to attack and when I need to stay back."
That style helped him this season, especially in regionals. The 3A 130-pound class was loaded with quality wrestlers, most of whom Davis doesn't see until regionals or state.
With a record of 29-5, that approach seemed to work, especially going into his final match of the year. There he faced Colt Rogers of Smith Center, who was undefeated in the state of Kansas for four years. But to Davis, Rogers was just another opponent.
Though he lost the match, Davis said he never quit. He was down three points to Rogers with 30 seconds left in the title match.
"I had to pull something out. He knew it was coming, the crowd knew it was coming, the coaches knew it was coming. It wasn't likely I was going to throw him, but I had to try," Davis said. "Rogers is an outstanding wrestler, but I'm never going to go in expecting to lose."
You won't catch Lane Greenlee gloating about winning a state championship in his senior season. After winning the 130-pound title by technical fall, the Garden City High School senior simply reacted like he did following any other match — shake his opponent's hand and walk off the mat, showing little emotion in the process.
But that won't keep him from at least showing off that after more than 10 years of wrestling, he's finally a state champion.
"It's great," Greenlee said. "I like everyone knowing that I'm the best in my weight in the sport. I accomplished it and I'm going to show it off on my letterman's jacket, but I'm not going to brag about it. I'm going to be a little humble about it."
Greenlee got a bit of revenge during his quest for the state title. The GCHS senior had a semifinal rematch with Dodge City's Brandon Vasquez, who had beaten Greenlee in the semifinals at the regional tournament. This time around, Greenlee got the better of Vasquez with a 6-1 decision, then downed Maize's Chase Locke in the championship match by a 20-5 technical fall.
"Lane should go buy him a steak dinner," GCHS coach Monte Moser said. "He got Lane lined out in the regionals. It woke him up and that Sunday, Lane was a different creature. He did some soul searching, saw where he was lacking and luckily he's in good enough shape that he was able to turn it around in a week. He was just a whole different wrestler at state than he was at regionals."
Like fellow senior Joey Dozier, having his close friend finish with a state title alongside him was a great moment for Greenlee.
"It was special for high school," Greenlee said. "It's an amazing accomplishment that both of us got it. But now we'll have college and we'll have to be focusing up for that. We can't say 'That's it, we got the ultimate goal.' We have to keep going."
Greenlee plans to attend Pratt Community College to continue his wrestling.
"Pratt's been talking to me since our first tournament," Greenlee said. "They seem pretty in to me. So I'm going to go ahead and try them out. I don't want to red-shirt my first year, so I'm going to go to a junior college."
As a freshman in 2009, Scott City wrestler Clay Mulligan was so small he didn't even make the 103-pound weight in the smallest division of the high school sport. He managed to post a 26-11 record but he knew he needed to add some weight and get stronger.
He accomplished those goals and the change resulted in a stellar sophomore season in which he finished with a 37-3 record and a third-place finish in the State 4A wrestling tournament in Salina last month.
"I definitely improved on my feet and was more aggressive this season," Mulligan said. "I was actually disappointed about state because I thought I had a great chance of winning. I had my goal of winning but it didn't work out that way."
Mulligan had a tough draw at the state tournament and faced eventual champion Bryce Shoemaker of Baldwin in the second round where he lost a 2-0 decision. He would eventually come back through the consolation bracket and win four matches to claim the third place medal for the Beavers.
Mulligan is unsure at what weight he will wrestle next year as a junior but he plans to spend the offseason doing freestyle and Greco-Roman competitions.
"I just want to get more mat time and work on those little small things that I've been doing wrong," Mulligan said. "I have a lot to look forward to and still feel as though I've got room to improve."
Depending upon what weight classes the other 103-pounders are at next season, the state could be just as challenging and just as exciting. Of the top six finishers this year, all were either freshmen or sophomores.
"As long as I wrestle my best I always feel like I have a good chance of winning," Mulligan said. "There are a bunch of good wrestlers in my weight range but I'm going to work on getting better."