PARK CITY — One theme ran through the three individual state championships the Dodge City High School wrestling team won at Hartman Arena Saturday — finally.
For the first time in program history, the Red Demons had three individual state champions, and for each Demon wrestler, the gold was a culmination of several years of dedication to a sport they loved.
Damian Mendez (106), Couy Weil (120) and Garrett Edwards (138) pulled off the feat.
“It’s one of the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Weil said after his 6-2 win over Olathe Northwest’s Caden Howard, flexing his arms to his friends, family and fans in the stands immediately afterwards. “Winning a state championship is one of the biggest things you can ever achieve, in my opinion.”
The Dodge City titles all came within the first seven weights wrestled, after the 285-pounders began the evening. And combined with WAC rival Garden City’s three titles in the first six weights wrestled, and it was a western Kansas party early, prompting a high-five from the Garden City and Dodge City head coach counterparts.
“It’s a great feeling for sure,” Leuders said of the Dodge City trio of titles. “Those kids have worked their butts off and they earned it.
“What’s cool is it was back-to-back-to-back. There was just a match break between each one, so it was definitely a good feeling.”
The titles helped Dodge City finish sixth as a team with 118.5 points. Derby won with 200, just ahead of Manhattan’s 197. Garden City was third, Topeka Washburn-Rural fourth and Haysville-Campus fifth.
It was Mendez that began the run for the Demons, taking a 2-1 lead into the second period against Haysville-Campus’ Dylan Sheler. Starting in the down position, Mendez got a quick escape, and then an even quicker takedown for the 5-1 lead going into the third period.
There, Sheler rallied, scoring a reversal out of the down position to make it 5-3.
But the freshman Mendez, who started wrestling when he was 6, was able to hold off any other scoring to claim the gold.
“My coach told me I could be a state champ, and I worked and I worked and I worked and here it is,” Mendez said. “This is just the beginning…”
Mendez finished his freshman season at 45-7.
At 120, Weil had to rally from Howard’s early takedown for the lead. Weil did get an escape, but trailed 2-1 after the first period. In the last minute of the second period, Weil scored a takedown of his own, and then rode the period out to keep the 3-2 lead.
Then in the down position to start the third, Weil scored an escape followed by a takedown for the sure 6-2 win.
“It means everything to me,” Weil said. “Wrestling’s my life. I’ve trained every moment for this. This is where all the hard work went to.”
Weil finished his year at 41-11.
Edwards capped the night with a thriller against Haysville-Campus’ Nathan Bowen.
After a scoreless first period, Bowen scored the only point in the second with an escape. But starting in the down position in the third, Edwards got a quick escape to draw even, and then scored a takedown in the final 40 seconds.
But with less than 20 seconds to go, Bowen reversed the hold and drew even at 3 — though, Dodge City’s coaches disagreed that Bowen scored the full reversal.
Nonetheless, the match went to sudden victory, where it looked like Edwards scored a takedown, but ref ruled Edwards did not complete the move. The coaches again disagreed, but the match moved to a second sudden victory period.
No matter, Edwards pulled off another move and got back points to seal the win.
“He kept his composure was the biggest thing,” Leuders said of Edwards. “There were some calls that we felt didn’t go our way, but instead of getting frustrated by that or blame the refs, he stayed in the match and at the end hit a move to get some back points and get the job done.”
“I’m just speechless right now,” Edwards said of the win. “I don’t think I’ve realized I’m a state champion. I’ve wrestled for 15 years to be a state champion, and I’ve finally accomplished it.”
Although the Demons finished Friday with a disappointing semifinal loss by heavyweight favorite Evan Darville, Saturday was nothing but highlights, even for Darville.
The senior got a quick pin of Damion Ilalio (Manhattan) in the consolation semifinal, and then won a 2-1 decision to take third.
“It feels good to finish with the winning streak,” Darville said. “It shows character that I didn’t give up on my team.”
It was also the final two matches of Darville’s wrestling career.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “I had a great time doing it, and I was surrounded by great guys all four years and I’m just really happy I decided to wrestle.”
After two state medals, Darville is done, though, opting to pursue a college football career at Southeast Missouri