• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Mat Jackets starting to peak in time for post-season

MAX ANDREONI is one of the team leaders on the Woodford County High School wrestling team this season. According to Woodford head coach Rusty Parks Jr., Andreoni is probably the pound-for-pound best wrestler in the state of Kentucky right now. (Photo by Rick Capone)

Entering the 2015-16 season, head coach Rusty Parks Jr. had high expectations for his Woodford County High School wrestling team, and while there have been a few “bumps in the road,” he believes his team has the potential to win a state title this year. “We’ve definitely done really, really well this year,” said Parks. “I think we’ve done good things and bad things. There are some things that I think we could have done better, like a couple of the tournaments we did not win. I think we could have done a little bit better at the Sectional Duals than we did. But, all in all, we’ve had a great year so far. … We’re in the top 5 in the state right now. Arguably, the best team in the state still. We have had a couple losses, but I think we’ve had a great year so far.” As for his wrestlers, he believes they have all done great things so far, but there is still work to be done as the post-season approaches. “A lot of kids have overcome my expectations for them,” said Parks. “And, the team, as a whole, has definitely overcome my expectations. … But, we still haven’t peaked yet, which is a good thing. We still have a lot of kids that are close to their full potential, but not there yet.” To get to the level they need for the State Duals this Saturday, Jan. 30, at Ryle High School, and for the State Championships, Feb. 19 and 20, at the Kentucky Horse Park, Parks and his team has adopted a saying to help push them to their next level of potential. “We’ve done a really good job this year, but we’ve just got to keep going. Keep working. Make every day count,” said Parks. “We say carpe diem around here. … Seize the day kind of thing, but we ‘Win the day.’ If you can come in today and your body is sore or you don’t feel good, get a good work in and you’ve won today. Don’t let the sickness put you out, don’t let the injury sit you down too much where you can’t do anything. But, win the day.” Individually, the Mat Jackets have a solid lineup that, top to bottom, is on the brink of doing some exceptional things by the end of the season. To start, Woodford has four lightweights and one middleweight who are the foundation for the team and who Parks believes should definitely place at state – Chase Yost (106 pounds), Tylan Tucker (113 pounds), Tucker Hurst (120 pounds), Joey Roberts (132 pounds) and Max Andreoni (160 pounds). “Woodford has always been known for our lightweights,” said Parks. “We’ve always been a very successful program with lighter-weight guys. Andreoni, obviously, is an exception at 160 pounds. We also have a tough middle weight, but, our lightweights are our backbone. Those are the guys, especially in a dual meet, (where) you usually start at the lightweight and work your way up to the heavyweight. Those guys (the light weights) really get the ball rolling for us. “Yost is one that really gets going for us, because of his mentality and of the composure that he carries. And, he’s mean. That’s the basic word for him. Chase and Tucker (Hurst) might be our two smallest guys in size on the team, (but) are probably our two meanest kids on the team. … Mean as in – they’re going to kick your butt. Yost and Tucker are in your face for six minutes. “Then we have Roberts and Tylan Tucker who aren’t as aggressive or mean like that, but those are the guys that will wait, wait, wait and then they’re going to hit you. … They’re my ‘sleepers,’ I call them,” because of that technique.” Then there’s Andreoni, who has become a very tough, mature and confident wrestler during his time at Woodford. “”He’s a class act,” said Parks. “He knows what his job is. His job in the winter time is to kick your butt. That sums it up for Andreoni. “The reason he’s so tough now is the work he’s put in,” Parks continued. “You get what you earn. You’ve heard me say that many times this year. But, he’s definitely earned it. Nothing has been given to that kid at all. He has been thrown curve ball after curve ball after curve ball. (For example), his freshman year, two years ago, (he had to sit) out of state because of ringworm (on his arm). Any other kid would have quit wrestling. … But, he didn’t cry one tear. Didn’t complain one time. (He just said), ‘Coach, can we work out tomorrow? My season startstomorrow.’ “So, he’s earned it. I’ll be very, very surprised if he does not win state this year. Very, very surprised. I still say that Andreoni is probably the pound-for-pound best kid in the state of Kentucky right now.” Right below those top wrestlers are five more athletes who will be very important to the team’s success if they want to win a state championship – Matthew Fallon (145 pounds), Gage Thompson (152 pounds), Michael Eldridge (170 pounds), Andrew Varble (182 pounds) and Emir Bernabe (195 pounds). “They are huge to us, huge to us,” said Parks. “…Within that 50-pound (range) right there, (are) five really tough kids. Then you throw Andreoni in the mix; I mean, that could be the toughest lineup right there we’ve got. My light weights are solid. But, that middle core we’ve got right there is awesome. Those are the guys I need. Out of those five guys in the middle, I need three of those guys to step up and be a state placer. … If I can put seven to nine state placers up (on the podium) this year, we’re the team champ. There’s no doubt.” Then right below that middle group of wrestlers are four more athletes who are right on the brink of being successful – Marik Black (126 pounds), Dermot Cunningham (138 pounds), Jack Hill (220 pounds) and Helio Reyes (heavyweight). According to Parks, the thing about Woodford wrestling is that, while those four wrestlers might be the ones that need the most work on the team, if they were on almost any other team, they would be starters on those teams. That is the depth of talent that makes up the Mat Jackets. Parks also believes strongly that those four wrestlers could end up playing a large role in helping the team win a state title. With hard work, the more points they earn, the more they help the team achieve their goals. “Helio, Marik, Jack, and Dermot Cunningham – those four … are the guys that I really am going to focus on the next couple weeks,” said Parks. “… I’m really going to focus on those guys, because they are huge to the team. They can help us out big time.” The good thing for Woodford, according to Parks, is that his team hasn’t peaked yet and still has some room to grow. “Like I said, we haven’t peaked yet, which is a good thing,” said Parks. “You don’t want to peak midway through the season, or even three-fourths of the way through the season. You want to peak right at regional time. And, I think we’re getting there. We’re right there. So, I’m very pleased with that, but we have a lot of work to do still.” For Woodford wrestling, the team is a family. It is the one sport at Woodford where wrestlers, past and present, are always there to support the team. And, for Parks, every kid on the team is a member of his family. “Every kid on this team, I wouldn’t trade them for nothing,” said Parks. “I seriously would not. I mean, this is my passion, pride and joy.” Next up, Woodford participates in the State Dual Championships at Ryle High School this Saturday, Jan. 30. at approximately 9 a.m.

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