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In his ninth year guiding his alma mater’s wrestling team, Central Hardin coach Russ Pike has 10 reasons to believe the Bruins can contend for the Region 2 title this season.
With 10 upperclassmen returning, the Bruins are oozing with experience.
And they’re a pretty talented bunch, to boot. With that combination, Pike has set some lofty – yet very attainable goals – for the Bruins.
“We want to place in the top three at State Duals, want a team region title, are looking to have nine kids in the finals at the region tournament, would like to finish in the top seven at the state tournament and have seven kids get medals at State,” Pike said.
Pretty lofty, indeed.
But because the Bruins don’t have a lot to replace, Pike is optimistic they can achieve them.
“Practices have been tough and grueling, but the kids are improving each day and doing what we ask of them,” Pike said. “We have been blessed with a really great group of kids this year, and for the past several years. We have great kids that understand wrestling is hard work, and they are very eager to get the season started.”
The pieces are definitely in place for a solid year.
Two region champions – junior heavyweight Matt Daugherty and 138-pound senior Wyatt Overman – highlight the cast of returnees.
Overman went 39-10 last season and is currently ranked sixth at 126 pounds by kentuckywrestling.com. Daugherty, meanwhile, is ranked third at heavyweight after a sixth-place finish at State.
“Wyatt has a great work ethic and is one of the more vocal leaders in the wrestling room,” Pike said. “Matt has a lot of qualities you can’t teach, like heart, desire to win and being teachable. He is more of a quiet leader and he lets his actions speak for him, but don’t let it fool you. He is hungry to finish higher on the podium this year.”
Other returnees are seniors Jared Coffell, Andrew Lee, Cody Mardis, Joey Pulliam, Charles Saling and Cody Reeser, juniors Brett Rafn and Trey Jaco, sophomores Tristin Bird and Cole Overman, freshman Cody Thomas and eighth-grader Grant Hall.
Hall and Thomas could split time at the lower weights, 106 and 113 pounds.
“The two young men got extensive time last year and will be that much more experienced this year,” Pike said. “We are working on their strength and endurance.”
Coffell and Bird are back at 120 and 126.
“Jared has gotten stronger in the offseason and works hard in practice,” Pike said. “Tristin is quick, strong and works very hard. He could help us out a lot this year.”
Lee and Mardis will alternate between 145 and 152. Pulliam, Cole Overman, senior P.J. Larkin and junior Jason Keplinger could see time at 152 and 160.
“These guys are very competitive every day and any one of them could be our varsity guy at either of these spots,” Pike said. “Joey and Cole have the most experience of the four of them, though none of them wrestled in the postseason. They have worked hard in the offseason to improve and we are excited to see how things go in these weight classes.”
Rafn is 1-of-4 candidates to start at 170, while Jaco and senior Cole Stowers are jockeying for the 182 spot.
Saling will start at 195 after wrestling most of last season at 220 when Reeser suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the season. Pike said Reeser is healthy and will start again at 220. Reeser lost just three times before his injury.
“Charlie could come up big for us this year,” the coach said. “Cody is a very tough kid and great competitor. He has a competitive drive that you can’t teach. He likes to win and he hates to lose even more. He’s a very valuable returner.”
A new assistant coach has also elevated Pike’s enthusiasm.
Former LaRue County standout Eric Burrell has joined the staff, replacing longtime assistant and head coach Mike Elmore.
“He’s doing an awesome job,” Pike said of Burrell, a 2004 graduate. “Apparently I’ve gotten soft in my tenure as coach, so it’s been nice to get some new blood in here to get in the boys’ faces a little more. He’s pretty intense.
“He has already made a huge impact on the kids,” he added. “He has a great background in wrestling. He wrestled under Gary Canter, so you know he’s technically sound. He has been a great addition to the staff.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or email@example.com.