HOME STRETCH: THS gears up for end-of-season run at State Tournament

Feb. 2—At the end of practice, Tahlequah wrestling Head Coach Travis Kirby has the Tigers complete a drill to help them finish matches.

During the final minutes of practice, the Tigers focus on a drill that can help them pick up a win in the closing minutes. Described as a "sprint" by Kirby, the Tigers practice getting numerous takedowns in a short period to turn the tides in a match.

"It is gearing them if they are down in the match," Kirby said. "It is if you know you can't turn him for the win, but you can take him down all day. Every time you cut him you give up one, but when you take him down you get two. So it is a sprint to get those takedowns, it is there to condition their mind and bodies to help finish, they are constantly looking for attacks without thinking about what's next."

At this point in the season, the drill is trying to gear the Tigers up for the grueling post-season schedule that is approaching. In just a few short weeks, the Regional Tournament will open with high expectations for some of the Tigers.

While there were earlier in the season, THS has a trio of wrestlers that are expected to return to the State Championship.

Last season Jayden Moore won a State Championship for the Tigers. A year later and Moore is looking to become the first back-to-back State Champion for the Tigers since the 1980s. The biggest question for Moore and Kirby is what weight class is the defending State Champion going to compete in. Right now Kirby is trying to decide to wrestle Moore at 165 or 175 and could see a win at either weight class.

"He is on the right track now it is just deciding what weight he wants to go at, he can win either," Kirby said. "Both weights have their challenge, but he could be the first to win two titles two years in a row. He is heading in the right direction but winning two in a row is hard no matter the weight class."

Along with Moore potentially picking up his second straight State Title, Kirby is expecting big things from a pair of returning qualifiers in Jacob Caviness and Mandi Ingram.

"Being a senior wrestling 106 pounds, that is an advantage [for Caviness] in itself. He is a tough kid, I expect him to be on the podium," Kirby said. "[Ingram] has been doing really well this year, she wrestled a State Champion in an exhibition and was able to take her down. I expect her to do big things this year.

Along with last year's qualifiers, Kirby could see sophomore Sonny Bullet making a surprise run toward the State Championship.

Along with the individuals, Kirby expects to take a talented girls' team to the State Finals. Led by Ingram, the Lady Tigers currently sit just outside of the top 10 in No. 11 in their district.

"Our girls have been fun to coach, they have all bought in. They are so supportive of each other. Just watching them wrestle, they have a lot of passion," Kirby said.

Despite the solid ranking, Kirby thinks the Lady Tigers have a case for a higher spot in the top 10. THS took second earlier this season at the Wilburton Tournament. In their most recent outing, the Lady Tigers took the win in the Doug Rial Invitational by nearly 80 points.

"If I'm looking at them we should be ranked higher, we have beaten some higher-ranking teams in tournaments," Kirby said. "Rankings don't matter as much to me but they matter to the kids and parents. They've really come out this year and made a name for themselves. Coaches are recognizing it and they are getting ranked for it. I think all that will come out to show at regionals in a couple of weeks."

With just about two weeks to go before the season ends, Kirby is focusing on a strong ending for his wrestlers.

"We want to finish out the season, let's focus on what we can control," Kirby said. "Those things we can control are showing up to practice, putting in the effort and showing up. The whole season has been about believing you can belong and being a 10/10 person. Being the best version of yourself that you can be and let it fly."

THS will be back in action at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at home against Muskogee and McAlester.

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