By JEREMY HINES
Hamilton Heights coach Gary Myers doesn’t feel like his wrestling team is getting the respect and state-wide attention they deserve. He’s OK with that.
“I got to tell you, I’d rather not be ranked,” Myers said. “I was ranked No. 1 my whole senior year and that just put a target on my back and wore me out. When these kids aren’t ranked, I don’t even care. They will just go out and prove it. I know I have 10 kids that should be in the mix. Maybe not top 10, but top 15 to 18 for sure. But rankings are just opinions, that’s why everyone wrestles on the mat.”
Myers reminds his squad constantly that nothing will be given to them. He tells the story of his own career, where he finished in the top four at state as a junior. Then, as a senior, he entered semistate undefeated and ranked No. 1, but he lost in the first round.
“There are no guarantees in this sport,” he said. “We had four guys in the ticket round last year. This year we want more but they are going to have to work to get there.
The Huskies have lofty goals this season. They want to win the team state title, send 12 wrestlers to regional and semistate and six or seven to state.
Currently only one Husky wrestler is ranked in the state poll. Senior Evan Tilton is ranked No. 3 at 195. He could possibly wrestle 182 come tournament time.
“Our decision now is what to do with Evan,” Myers said. “I think we’ll let him make his debut at 182. We were going to take him to 170. I asked him if he could win semistate at 182 and he said yes.
“Evan is a funky wrestler. He can be in a bad spot and somehow, he always comes out on top. He’s hard to coach. He doesn’t do anything orthodox. He doesn’t even know where’s going to end up. He just finds ways to win.”
According to Myers, this Husky team is the best he has ever coached. In fact, Myers believes this is the best team in school history.
“We are a solid team at every weight,” Myers said. “We are going to be a problem for anyone. I used to have teams with seven good wrestlers. Teams could move people around against our lineup. You can’t do that now. You have to go heads up with us. Anywhere you move someone you’re going to get a good wrestler.”
Currently the Huskies are ranked No. 6 in Class 2A.
“When I saw that, I thought, this is unbelievable,” Myers said. “Our team is tough. We are going to shock some people. We are going to embarrass a few. We are going in hoping to win team state. I’ll never have this team again. This year we are going all in. The rankings just give us that feeling that we were slighted and we want to prove some people wrong.”
Kendall Moe, a freshman, will be the team’s 106 pounder this year. She was an All-American at Fargo and is ranked No. 5 at that weight in the girls’ state rankings.
Junior Jeylen Pugh will wrestle 126 for the Huskies. Last year Pugh wrestled at 132 pounds. Pugh has 11 siblings, and they have all wrestled for coach Myers. His sister, Zoe, is ranked 7th in the state for female wrestlers.
Isaac Kuhn will be the team’s 132 pounder. Kuhn is one of the team captains along with Tilton.
“People overlook Isaac,” Myers said. “He’s been in the ticket round at semistate two years in a row. He wrestles every offseason. He always shows up. He doesn’t miss practice. He’s very, very quiet. Once and a while you need the hard workers to show the others how to put in the time.”
Junior Alex Furst has been a nice surprise, according to Myers. He will wrestle at 138 this year and is currently 6-0 on the year.
Junior Carson Fettig will wrestle at 145 this season.
“Carson has wrestled against high schoolers since he was in seventh grade,” Myers said. “He would beat them a lot of times. We are hoping for a good season out of him.”
Michael Cain, a sophomore, will either be 152 or 160 this season for the Huskies.
“He’s a very good wrestler and he’s going to be a problem for everyone,” Myers said.
Senior Jimmy Lacey will be the team’s 170 pounder and classmate Josh Brown will wrestle at 220. Brown was a ticket-rounder last year.
Mason Moran will round out the lineup for the Huskies at heavyweight.
Myers wrestled with tenacity when he was younger. In fact, he did pay per view mixed martial arts fights well into his 40s. Through that he earned the nickname Iron Bear.
“My mom gave me the name bear when I was two,” Myers said. “But I wrestled in Russia in 1990 and I had an overtime match against a Soviet champion (Alexandir Markov). I didn’t quit wrestling and the Russian press started calling me the Iron Bear. I almost caused an International incident that day. They called me that because I refused to give up.”
That mentality is something the Hamilton Heights wrestlers will have this year, according to Myers. They won’t give up and they are going to turn some heads.