By STEVE KRAH
It didn’t take Manzona Bryant IV long to make an impact on Indiana high school wrestling.
As a Culver Military Academy freshman, the grappler from Columbus, Ohio, placed sixth at 132 pounds at the 2016-17 IHSAA State Finals.
Three weeks later, he took home the 145-pound title at the Indiana State Wrestling Association folkstyle tournament.
Certified for at 132 but also competing at 138, he has been dominating opponents and dazzling mat audiences so far during the 2017-18 high school season.
Bryant also continues to make his CMA teammates better with his infectious enthusiasm and athletic tenacity.
“He’s charismatic,” says 10th-year Eagles head coach Matt Behling. “When he steps on that mat, he’s bringing it every single time. The best thing that’s happened for our team is that attitude is contagious.
“He’s helping to elevate the wrestling in our (practice) room. It’s been trickle-down effect. It’s been great.”
The coaching staff, which also includes Andrew Basner, Josh Harper, Brandon James and Chris Prendergast, encourages Bryant to constantly push the pace and he takes that to heart.
“They tell me to just be relentless on the mat and don’t stop,” says Bryant. “I always strive to get better. If I do something wrong, I always want to get back in the room and fix it.”
Bryant produced the fastest pin of his high school career Saturday, Dec. 16 at Penn’s Henry Wilk Classic when he scored a fall in six seconds.
“The clock said :06, I’d like to say it was :04 or :05,” says Bryant, who did achieve a four-second pin in junior high. “I usually use a ‘cowcatcher.’ I ‘bulldog’ and throw deep and go fast.”
How deep is Bryant’s “bag of tricks”?
“I usually stick to the basics,” says Bryant. “I hit the usual shots or a front headlock. But if I’m out there and I need to hit something, I’ve got it. I pull out the little sack.”
Bryant, who carries the same name as his father, grandfather (who served in the U.S. Air Force) and great grandfather, began his competitive wrestling career at age 7.
“I had a decent season and my mom accidentally signed me up for the Tournament of Champions in Columbus and I got sixth,” says Bryant. “My mom (Theresa) thought it was some local tournament at the convention center.”
From there, Bryant enjoyed success at the local, state and national level. He won a title in Tulsa, Okla., as a sixth grader and was a two-time Ohio junior high state champion.
Bryant is an only child.
“Sometimes that’s a good thing,” says Bryant. “Other times, all your friends are gone and you’re at the house going ‘What do I do?’”
As a wrestler, he gets the chance to be social and hang around with like-minded friends.
“I’m a people person,” says Bryant. “I like to hang out with people. That usually leads to doing more activities.”
When those people are his wrestling teammates and coaches, they are often working on mat moves.
But don’t be surprised to see the Hacky Sack make an appearance.
“We find it interesting and fun. Our coaches like to get into it. Adam Davis is really good. It’s a good stress reliever. It calms you down and gets you ready.”
Bryant’s regular workout partner is freshman Eli Pack, who also hails from Columbus, Ohio.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” says Manzona. “He was my workout partner in seventh and eighth grade. I told his parents about the wonderful opportunities (at Culver). We know each other so well. We know how to push each other. It’s kind of hard to describe.”
Bryant describes what it was like at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the State Finals last Feb. 17-18.
“On Friday night, I just concentrated and went into that match strong and positive,” says Bryant. “I took care of business that night. Going into the state tournament this year, I’m going to try to zero in on every match and take it like it could be my last one.”
Bryant says he would have attended a private school if he would have gone to high school in Ohio. He enjoys the lessons in self-discipline he is learning at Culver.
“I like it because it gives me organization,” says Bryant. “It helps me do the little things like make my bed, wake up on-time and to know where to be places and when.”
Culver Academies — Culver Military Academy for boys and Culver Girls Academy — is loaded with athletic students. There are nearly 30 interscholastic sports at the private school for Grades 9-12. Students who are not with a sports team must work out three times a week. Culver has a state-of-the-art fitness center for that.
“A lot of people are competitive,” says Bryant. “When we have unit games, you know everyone is going to fight.”
Contests get fierce when dodgeball, basketball or Eagle Ball (a game similar to ultimate frisbee played with a football and targets) is played between units.
The school has three battalions — Artillery, Infantry and Squadron. Bryant is in Battery C of the Artillery. He chose that battalion because they get to drive trucks during the various parade seasons.
“That’s a nice little break instead of marching all the time,” says Bryant. “Sophomores also get the privilege of firing the cannon at parades, Reveille and retreat.”
As a private school, students must qualify academically to get admitted.
“Our kids are very respectful,” says Behling, who is also a Culver counselor. “They’re in this leadership system so they understand what it means to be a leader.
“We don’t deal with some of the issues that maybe some of the public schools are dealing with in terms of academics. I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid who’s been sat because he couldn’t handle the academics.”
The school day contains four 85-minute class blocks and goes from 8:30 to 3:15 p.m. with wrestling practice from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Bryant’s favorite subject?
“Latin II,” says Bryant of the course taught in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages & Cultures. “It’s interesting. A lot of our words come from Latin. It’s nice to see those when I’m studying a new vocabulary list or something like that.”
Culver Academies requires students to take three years of foreign language. Next year, Bryant will take Latin III. As a senior, he has the choice of Advanced Placement Latin or pursuing an Honors in Language.
A four-year school with students from all over the globe, Culver wrestling does not have a feeder program such a junior high or a club.
Some — like Bryant — come to campus with wrestling experiences. Others are brand new to the sport.
“It comes down to having a really good coaching staff,” says Behling. “I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about surrounding myself with good people.
“Wrestlers’ first one or two years, they’re struggling. After that, they come in and make a significant impact in our program.
“If we’re blessed enough to have a kid that has wrestling experience, that’s great, too, because we can run with it. Kids know that if they come to Culver and they want to wrestle, they can have a real good wrestling experience.”
The Eagles have been strong enough to qualify a few times for the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (which happen this season Saturday, Dec. 23 at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne).
“Here’s where the frustration is: We were right in the vote for going to Team State for the third time,” says Behling. “We didn’t get the vote because the selection committee needed to know — and this is the only question they asked us — who are your eighth graders who are going to make a contribution to your team next year? I can’t answer that in the spring so I had no response.”
CMA is the site of an ISWA/USA Wrestling Regional Training Center. Momentum for the sport really picked up after Daniel Young became the school’s first state wrestling champion in 2009. The Bloomoington, Ind., native went 48-0 as a Culver senior and then wrestled at West Point.
“The school got excited about that,” says Behling. “An endowment was established for wrestling. That endowment has really helped us in the last eight years. Our wrestling room is up there as one of the tops in the state of Indiana.”
That room is now occupied by the 2017-18 CMA Eagles.
“When our lineup is set and we clear out a few injuries, we can be a pretty tough team,” says Behling. “We’re excited about the future.”
That future includes a bundle of energy named Manzona Bryant.
In 1994 Indiana female wrestling was in its extreme infancy. So when Katie (Downing) Kriebel and her dad met with Pendleton coach Dave Cloud about joining the high school team – she was a little nervous.
Coach Cloud told her dad that he had never had a female wrestler before.
“Dad told him that he had never had a daughter that wanted to wrestle before, either,” Kriebel said. “So, he told him that they were in the same boat.”
Cloud agreed to let her wrestle. That would be the start of many firsts for coach Cloud where Kreibel was involved.
Kriebel was a good athlete. She played softball and trained in Judo. In fact, it was her love of Judo that got her curious about wrestling.
“I trained with the boys in Judo,” Kriebel said. “It wasn’t a big deal in Judo. But, I noticed that a lot of boys that didn’t know any Judo at all, that were wrestlers, came over and were very good right off the bat. I decided I needed to learn wrestling, too.”
She wasn’t quite prepared for the rigors of the sport as a high school freshman. In her very first practice she threw up during conditioning. She didn’t want to appear weak, so right after she vomited she started to run. She made it through the first practice, and won over some of the guys who were questioning her toughness.
“That first week of wrestling was the first time in my life that I had tried something and didn’t know whether I could do it or not,” Kriebel said. “I was hooked. Once I made it through the first week and I knew I wasn’t going to die, I loved it. I loved the challenge of it.”
Kriebel didn’t fare well early on – but she was battling more than just her opponent across the mat. Her first match was a junior varsity contest. When she walked out on the mat the opposing team and their parents were laughing noticeably at her.
“I didn’t like that,” Kriebel said. “But I was too nervous to really care. I ended up catching the kid with a head and arm that came from Judo and winning that match. Then everyone was laughing at him. I remember it not being fun at all because of everyone else’s reactions.”
Kreibel didn’t like that people made fun of her, but she also couldn’t stand the fact that the person she was wrestling would get ridiculed too.
“I came from a time when you had to pick your battles,” Kriebel said. “I definitely had every sort of response you could imagine. Some moms and dads were concerned for my safety. Some were concerned because they didn’t teach their boys to hurt girls. They were worried about touching and that sort of thing, too. But most of those issues really got resolved on their own once they started seeing me as a wrestler.”
Kreibel said that by her senior year, some of her biggest critics had become her biggest fans.
“I never intended to be a pioneer,” Kriebel said. “I didn’t have a mission for equality or rights or girl power or anything like that. I just loved wrestling. Even if it was my mission – I figured out that actions speak a lot louder than words. I could talk about why I deserved to wrestle, or I could just go out and double leg a kid and show them.”
Kriebel finished with a .500 record in high school. She made varsity as a senior and placed third in sectional in a time when only the top two went on to regional.
“Katie just had this toughness about her,” coach Cloud said. “At first I was concerned about her safety, but she quickly dispelled that. She was really, really tough. She got smashed a few times, but she always got back up.”
In fact, Kriebel was so tough she didn’t care who she wrestled or how good they were. She would face anyone.
“Katie had grit and determination,” Cloud said. “We had a wrestler win state, Donny Sands, and when we had challenges she challenged him. Nobody else dared challenge Donny. But she had a lot of courage and heart. He beat her, but she didn’t back down.”
Kriebel’s senior year was the first year girls had a National tournament – and she won it.
She went on to qualify for the junior world team her freshman year of college and placed second. That was the first year the US took a full women’s team with a coach and paid for everything. Kriebel later won the first Women’s World Cup.
She took bronze in 2005 and 2007 at the World Championships and was eventually an alternate for the 2008 Olympics.
“Wrestling gave me the opportunity to see 22 different countries,” Kriebel said. “It was pretty great to see how big the world actually is, but some things in the wrestling room is the same no matter where you’re at.”
Kriebel never dreamed she would return to her roots in Pendleton. She coached a year at Oklahoma City University and then moved to California without any plans to return to this side of the Mississippi river. Then, Eric Kriebel, a longtime assistant coach at Pendleton passed away unexpectedly. She returned home and ended up starting a summer wrestling club in Pendleton in his name. She wanted to keep his legacy alive.
She married Jay Kriebel, Eric’s nephew and the two have two girls, Camryn, 3 and Clara, eight months old.
Kriebel is the varsity assistant coach at Pendleton now. She sits beside the very coach who doubted whether she could make it as a wrestler back in 1994 when Katie and her dad approached him.
“Katie has had a lot of firsts for me,” Cloud said. “She was my first assistant coach to start dating another coach. She was my first assistant coach to marry another coach. She was my first coach to go into labor during a match.”
Cloud said that Kreibel was coaching a match three years ago when she started having back spasms. That night he got a text that just said “I’m going to have a baby now.”
Kriebel has juggled the life of a coach and a parent for three years now. She demonstrated moves to the team while she was pregnant, and even carried Camryn in a baby sling while coaching at the New Castle semistate.
“Wrestling is all Camyrn has known,” Kriebel said. “I coached while I was pregnant with her. I showed front headlocks when she was in my belly, and she was literally on top of kids’ heads. She has never not known wrestling. She even calls the guys on the team ‘her guys’. “
Kriebel is going to let her kids decide for themselves if they want to wrestle or not. She loves the sport, but she also wants what’s best for them.
“I could really talk about wrestling for hours,” Kriebel said. “It’s honest. It’s very honest. You can’t b.s. very much in wrestling. If you have grit and perseverance, integrity and pride and you are willing to put a lot of work in without getting a lot back, then eventually you will be rewarded. It takes so much. You earn your spot. You earn everything.”
Her passion for the sport is infectious. Pendleton now has nine girls on the team and is hoping to have 15 next season.
“That’s sure a big change from where I started,” Cloud said. “But that’s great. I believe wrestling is the greatest sport in the world, so why wouldn’t you want girls doing it too?”