• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Mat Jackets ready to challenge for state title

STATE PLACERS. The Woodford County High School wrestling team returns a number of wrestlers who placed at state last year and who are looking to help lead the team to a state championship this season. Shown in front of their 2015-16 second-place state trophy are, from left, senior Max Andreoni, who has been a state runner-up the last two seasons; junior Adam Bender, a two-time state placer who is a newcomer to the Mat Jackets this season; freshman Chase Yost, who won a state title last year as an eighth grader; senior Joey Roberts, a three-time state placer looking for his first state title; and junior Tylan Tucker, a state placer who missed last year’s state championship tournament due to an injury. (Mat Jackets’ wrestling poster photo by Sarah Wolford)

The Woodford County High School wrestling team enters the 2016-17 season with their eye on winning their 14th KHSAA state wrestling championship. They come into this season with a lot of momentum from last year’s state championship tournament, where they finished in second place by just 47 points (187.5 to 140.5) to Union County. Not wanting to make excuses, and not taking anything away from Union County, but if sophomore Tylan Tucker, one of the top wrestlers in the state last year, had not been injured for the state tournament, there is a very good chance Woodford would have won the title last year. Having said that, with a little luck and everyone staying healthy, third-year head coach Rusty Parks Jr. believes his team has the talent and the hunger to win the title this year. “We’re ranked second preseason, which I think is pretty close to being correct,” said Parks. “I think with our addition of Adam Bender from Lexington Catholic, who is a two-time state placer now, we’re arguably the number one team in Kentucky. “Union County is ranked first; they have three returning placers. We have three returning placers (Chase Yost, Joey Roberts and Max Andreoni), then you throw in the transfer, Bender, that’s four to their three. So, in my opinion, it’s a two-horse race as of right now, I think. … “Our goal this year is to win that state title just like it is every year, but I really think Union County better watch out this season. I think we’re really going to be right there to win it all.” Looking at the wrestlers in each weight class, Woodford returns a lot of talented and experienced wrestlers. At 106 pounds, Parks is looking at three wrestlers during the preseason. First, there’s freshman Ian Ferrell. “Ian Ferrell is a tough kid,” said Parks. “He’s an up-and-coming middle school guy who is a freshman this year, (and he’s) really doing a great job. So, he’s one possibility.” The other possible wrestlers in this weight class are seventh graders, Gavin Andreoni and Reece Goss. At 113 pounds are two possible wrestlers – Bender, and freshman Dylan Bourne, who is a very successful middle school wrestler and Ferrell’s cousin. One of the first things you notice about Bender is that he only has one leg. But that does not slow him down at all. “Bender is a tough kid,” said Parks. “He’s tough in the wrestling room and a good leader. It’s fun to be around him, honestly, on and off the mat. He’s a great kid. … He loves wrestling. He’s always picking my brain. I think he grew up with a lot of our kids wrestling on the same club team. So he’s very familiar with our guys already. But it’s a little different for him I think. He said, ‘I’m not used to working like this, Coach.’” One other interesting thing about Bender is that the last two years at the state championships, the two people who knocked him out or the tournament were Tylan Tucker and Chase Yost. And now they’re teammates. The next two weight classes – 120 pound and 126 pound – could become interesting later this year as two of Woodford’s top wrestlers, freshman Chase Yost, who won the state title at 106 pounds last year, and Tylan Tucker, one of the top wrestlers in the state, might be vying for this weight class once Tucker returns to action sometime in January. According to Parks, things will be determined at that time as to which will wrestle at 120 pounds. The other will wrestle at 126 pounds. In the meantime, to start the season. Yost will probably be the one to wrestle at 120.

RUSTY PARKS JR. enters his third year as head coach of the Mat Jackets and is looking to guide his team to its 14th state championship. (File photo by Rick Capone)

“(Chase) is a defending state champion, and he’s only a freshman,” said Parks. “That’s awesome because very few kids have the work ethic that Chase does. He does not take a day off. And when he is in the room from 3:40 to 6 p.m., he’s 100 percent – going as hard as he can. He knows now he’s got the target on his back. He’s got to defend his title. But, at the same time, he wants to be a five-time state champion. It’s only been won in Kentucky by Brock Irvin from Union County. But, Chase has a darn good shot of doing so. He’s definitely one of the hardest worker in the room by far.” Another possible wrestler at 120 pounds is freshman David Chappelle, while at 126 pounds are freshman Tristan Brooks or sophomore CJ Cardwell. At 132 pounds are sophomores James Chavez and Wyatt Andreoni, who won a state title as part of the junior varsity last year. Then at 138 pounds, Parks is looking at another junior varsity state title holder in sophomore Ronan Wyatt. However, Wyatt will be challenged by senior Marik Black, a starter on last year’s team, who is out with an injury and not expected back until January. At 145 pounds, Parks is looking to three-time state place Joey Roberts to win the starting spot. A senior this year, he has become a team leader this season. “He is our captain this year. He’s our leader – by far the leader of the team,” said Parks. “He’s really picked up that vocal leadership, and is really the enforcer in the room.” Along with Roberts, freshman Richie Cunningham will also battle for the weight class. At 152 pounds, sophomore Juan Chavez will be one of the wrestlers trying for the spot. He was third in the junior varsity state championships last year. “He’s a very tough kid,” said Parks. “Tough on the football field, too. I loved watching him play football this year. He’s hard-nosed, and does not change at all when he steps on the wrestling mat. That guy is tough as crap on the wrestling mat.” Also, Isreal Angeles is a senior who will fight for the spot. Then at 160 pounds is sophomore John Stork, who is tough and did a good job on the junior varsity last year. At 170 pounds, there are two wrestlers vying for the spot right now – sophomores Mason Smith and DJ Bernabe. Parks believes that if they stay healthy, they’re both going to be huge factors at in this weight class. Moving up two weight classes is, arguably, one of the best wrestlers in the state in senior Max Andreoni. While he has finished runner-up the last two years, almost anyone you talk to believes that this year Max will finally win a state title. Still, moving up two classes will be a challenge, according to Parks. “Going up two weight classes, in my opinion, that is going to be the challenge for him is putting the weight on,” said Parks. “But, he’s done so. … “(While) he does not have a state championship of his own yet, he’s been the runner-up two times now. (He was also) seventh as an eighth grader, (and as a) freshman, got called out because of ring worm (and could not wrestle in the state tournament). “Max, though, regardless of not winning a state title, is pound-for-pound the best wrestler in the state of Kentucky.” One of Max’s strengths is his conditioning, which Parks believes will make a difference in his new weight class. “In my opinion, with his athleticism, and his (cardio) conditioning, if those guys get tired at all, ... I think Max eats them alive.” In all, Parks does not see anybody “standing in his way this year.” At 195 pounds, senior Andrew Varble returns and moves up a weight class. What is most interesting for Varble is that the top three wrestlers in the state in his weight class are out for the season because of injuries or personal reasons. “I think that opens the door for Andrew and he sees that,” said Parks. Another possible wrestler in this weight class is senior Brandon Grader, who according to Parks, is a first-time wrestler but doing very well. At 220 pounds is returner Jack Hill. A junior, Hill “is going to be one of our successful upper weights again,” said Parks. “I think he’ll be tough there.” As for the heavyweight division, Parks is still looking for a wrestler to step up and try for the position. The season opens at home on Wednesday, Nov. 30, with a quad dual between Woodford, LaRue County, Fern Creek and Taylor County. With a team loaded with returning state placers and a host of young talent, Parks believes this will be Woodford’s year. “Expectations for this season are high – we always set the bar high,” said Parks. “I think this is our year to win the state title. … Last year, I knew we had a good chance – a very good chance. It hurt us not having Tylan, but that’s the way sports are sometimes. You get dealt adversity and how do you react? Do you crumble, or do you get stronger? I believe we got stronger as a team and group. … Our goal is to win it though, and I think this is the year to win it with the senior class that we have, and the leadership that we have. I don’t see too many teams, other than Union County, really challenging us this year.”

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