No. 6: Area juniors grab state wrestling titles
Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 sports stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
There was a handful, literally and figuratively, of state wrestling champions from The Telegram's area that covers 19 schools.
Coincidentally, ironically, however you want to look at it, they're all back for the 2011-12 season and will be looking duplicate their championship accomplishments from the 2011 state tournaments in late February.
Juniors Anthony Calderon, Colton Lissolo, Jason Perez, Luke Hayes and Clay Mulligan, each claimed a gold medal in their respective state tournaments.
Garden City's Calderon, who compiled a 31-7 season record, perhaps had one of the most dramatic victories when he rallied from a 5-4 deficit with just 40 seconds remaining in the final period, and claimed a 7-5 victory over Kaleb Bonilla of Goddard. Bonilla was the defending state 6A champion.
"I think I had to overcome wrestling not to lose which was holding me back," Calderon said at the time. "I've been wrestling more risky, coming up from the bottom and hitting those takedowns. I knew that I need to work on my defense, too, working with my feet to get better."
Calderon said things turned around after a disappointing performance at the late January Rocky Welton Invitational, hosted by Garden City. The Buffs' wrestler lost twice and failed to medal.
"I knew I couldn't just keep doing what I had been doing," Calderon said. "It wasn't going to be good enough. I had a good practice partner and we really worked hard. It paid off."
The victory over Bonilla was so stunning that Calderon had little memory of how the ending had taken place.
"That was my goal all year, to win at state," Calderon said. "That match is a blur to me but I remember thinking that I've gotta shoot and coach (Carlos) Prieto told me to go for it. So I just shot when his head went to the outside of my leg and I was able to get that takedown. It happened so fast."
Hugoton's Lissolo had lost twice to Scott City's Hayes in 215-pound matches during the regular season as they compete in the same Great West Activities Conference. That high-level competition seemed to help when he arrived at Salina for the state tournament.
In becoming the first individual state champion wrestler at Hugoton High School, Lissolo compiled a 36-7 record. In his title match, he claimed a 3-1 decision over Taylor Kettler of Spring Hill.
"I expected to be a top-three wrestler but the whole winning part wasn't even in my head until state," Lissolo said of his winning effort. "I went to state last year and didn't place. I should've but I didn't quite wrestle to my full potential. I feel like I have a target on my back now."
Hayes was equally impressive, finishing with a glittering 39-4 record. He capped off his junior season by pinning Adam Guthmiller of St. francis, just 3:35 into the match. He had previously lost twice to Guthmiller during the regular season.
Ulysses' Perez also redeemed himself from previous disappointing performances at the state tournament.
The Tigers' junior was impressive in putting together a 35-2 season record. He was most impressive in his title bout, a 12-0 major decision over Tyler Mies of Andale.
"I was ranked third and that helped me do better," Perez said at the end of his season. "Then with the last few years, and the way I've been wrestling , it's helped me do well and help me come up in first."
Perez said he had hoped to erase the disappointment of two unsuccessful trips to state during his freshman and sophomore years by at least placing this year. Little did he know he would be winning his first state championship and making one of the more notable leaps from his previous two seasons.
Scott City's Mulligan only had to taste defeat twice during his junior season, and both of those came in Garden City at the prestigious Rocky Welton Invitational, where he would lose to two non-Kansas competitors. One of those would win a state title in New Mexico while the other would be a runner-up in Colorado.
Mulligan found no Kansans who could handle him at 112 pounds. He went 32-2 at that weight and then wrestled up at 119 pounds in another 11 matches, going 10-1 in those.
It would seem that the more times an athlete sees a competitor, the more difficult it would be to keep winning. In the case of Mulligan, though, he defeated John Risewick of Norton three times, including in the 3-2-1A state championship match.
For his effort, Mulligan was named The Telegram's 2011 Wrestler of the Year. Hugoton coach Brent Mahan claimed the Coach of the Year honor.