Pirate tradition: Olathe wrestlers follow in footsteps of their families
OLATHE — Zach Shank remembers going to wrestling tournaments when he was growing up, watching his cousins excel for Olathe High School.
Now the sophomore is one of several Pirate wrestlers following the family wrestling tradition.
“It was kind of destined for me,” Shank said. “When you’re a little guy, you look up to them. You want to be like them someday.”
Shank joined his dad, Jesse, and cousins Ty, Bryson and Brandon Gray, and several uncles, on the Olathe wrestling room wall of state placers last year after winning a state championship.
“(Winning a state title) was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Shank said. “If you get up there (on the wall), you feel like you’ve got kids looking up to you and want to be like you someday.”
The 119-pounder (36-2) will go for a second state title this weekend at the Colorado State Championships at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The tournament begins Thursday at 3 p.m.
The second-ranked Pirates, who qualified 12 wrestlers for the Class 3A tournament, are shooting for their third team title in school history and second in the past six years.
“We have a good chance to win it,” Olathe senior Kris Nieto said. “It would mean a lot. Even if we do lose some matches, we can come back through the back door and get as many points as possible.”
Top-ranked Centauri qualified eight wrestlers, but had five regional champions compared to Olathe’s three.
“I’ve felt all along we are a good, solid dual meet team,” Olathe coach Harvey Starbuck said. “If we do anything over there, we’ll have to make use of the back door in the consolation round.”
Olathe won the title in 2005 with no individual champions. The Pirates weren’t in the top three going into the final day, but won several consolation matches and placed eight wrestlers in the top six.
Many of the Olathe wrestlers know the history and tradition of the program because their older brothers, fathers and cousins have been in the program.
“It just kind of happens,” Kyle Piatt (39-0) said. “Growing up in a household full of wrestlers, you’re bound to end up wrestling. You love it because you’re constantly wrestling with your brothers. Wrestling is your life.”
Piatt’s two older brothers were state placers. Travis won an individual state title and Kirk was on the 2005 state championship team.
Ben Pridy’s uncles wrestled in the program. Brenton Martinez and Wyatt Yarnell have older brothers who wrestled. Zach Stansbury’s and Casey Childs’ uncles wrestled. Starbuck has coached some of his current wrestlers’ fathers and uncles.
“There is that family tradition. I can remember some of those kids barely old enough to walk,” Starbuck said. “I’ve coached kids of kids. My first year I coached Stansbury’s dad.
“You start rolling around when you’re little, watch a lot of it and enjoy it.”
Nieto (34-6) is a rarity in Olathe’s program. He is the first from his family to wrestle and made family history by placing fourth at state last year.
“There is a lot of pride (in the program),” Nieto said. “I just wanted to be the first one up there from my family. I want to show my (younger) brothers if they work hard, they can get it. I’m shooting for first place up there (on the wall).”
Class 3A Notes: Grand Valley’s Ryan Gallegos (37-0) is looking for a fourth trip to the finals, but his first state title. Teammate Jared Tonder (37-2) is seeking his second state finals appearance and first state title. The Cardinals, who moved up to 3A last year, have five state qualifiers, all of whom qualified last year. ... Hotchkiss has eight qualifiers, but five are making their first trip. Caleb Wyatt (31-4), who wrestles at 160, placed third last year at 145. ... Cedaredge’s Marty Peterson is making his second trip. He is joined by state tournament first-timer Cole Caywood. ... Coal Ridge’s Trevor Larson (119) qualified for the first time.