When first-time state qualifiers Wyatt Mansker and Brent Gray took to the mat at Pepsi Center back in February, the big stage made them feel like “deer in front of the headlights.”
The two Olathe wrestlers had gone to the state tournament in years past, but only as spectators. They both learned quickly that the atmosphere can be quite daunting when you’re performing on the floor.
“It was like being a deer in front of the headlights,” Mansker said, which drew a chuckle out of both him and Gray.
“We didn’t do what we wanted. But hopefully we can carry over (that experience) and not be as afraid,” added Mansker, who won the regional tournament in his weight class last season at the Montrose County Event Center.
But neither he nor Gray were able to place at the state tournament about a week after regionals. That fact has left the two with hopes of outdoing that previous performance.
“(We) made it all the way to the end, and (we’re) right there but petered out at the end of the season,” Mansker said. “That’s not how you want to finish. You always want to be at the top.”
Added Gray: “It motivates you to want to get better.”
That motivation has gotten the attention of head coach Tee Jay Rose.
He said he’s noticed a difference between Gray and Mansker early on during practice this season, adding they’ve been looking a little “hungrier.”
“They’ve seen what it’s all about now,” Rose said. “... It’s a whole different thing being on the floor.”
But the Olathe coach said Gray and Mansker are key leaders on the team.
“They’ve stepped up,” Rose said. “Now it’s let’s carry on and hit that big prize there in February.”
That big prize, of course, is the state tournament.
Mansker and Gray are the Pirates’ only two state qualifiers coming back this season.
The youth of the Olathe wrestling team outweighs the more experienced athletes heading into this winter season, according to Rose.
Rose said there are “a bunch” of new, inexperienced grapplers this year compared to the past few seasons. However, he praised his young wrestlers for their work ethic, adding he’s seen them refine their skills in just a matter of weeks.
“They’ve been working hard,” Rose said. “... I’ve seen a lot of improvement with the young kids.”