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By JOSH CLAYWELL firstname.lastname@example.org
HODGENVILLE — If longtime LaRue County wrestling coach Gary Canter thought he was going through a rebuilding year last season, he’s in for possibly his toughest test since beginning the program 19 years ago.
“This season will be a test for us,” Canter said. “We are used to so much more experience and leadership. We will have to find our identities early and not get down on ourselves if we want to make a run for the regional title at the end of the season.”
The Hawks were dethroned as Region 2 champions by the John Hardin Bulldogs but Canter feels his team can make a run as they get experience throughout the season.
LaRue County had won nine consecutive region titles, and Canter would love nothing more than to start a new streak this season.
“We hope to contend for the regional title again, but John Hardin has to be the team with the bull’s eye on its back this year due to their experience and the fact they knocked us off the podium last year,” Canter said.
With 11 freshmen and sophomores and four middle schoolers vying for time, Canter knows this year will be one of immense growing pains.
Canter will have to replace valuable experienced wrestlers in Lucas Carman and Matt Miller. Carman finished third at State at 130 pounds, while Miller was state runner-up at 135. Also gone are Joey Henderson and Christian Rojas, two wrestlers who left the team for personal reasons.
“We lost a total of six wrestlers – four due to graduation,” Canter said. “We lost a lot of experience in Lucas and Matt. The other seniors were only two-year wrestlers but competitive nonetheless. The other two losses are big due to their age. Both are underclassmen and their experience and ability will be missed. That creates holes that we were not counting on for a couple of years.”
LaRue County does return several key pieces from last year.
Freshman Nick Paden won the region title at 103 pounds last season and will start the season at 112. Canter said Paden will drop to 103 after Christmas.
“He was one match from medals at State,” Canter said. “Nick is much improved and stronger than last year and is a good, solid competitor.”
Senior Justin Thompson, who finished second at 112, will compete at either 112 or 119. If Thompson wrestles at 119, seventh-grader Raymundo Perez will see time at 112.
“Justin is strong and quick. He will be a force to be reckoned with. He’s looking good in practice and if he can eliminate self-inflicted mistakes, he will medal at State this year,” Canter said. “Perez is young, but very capable.”
Also back are seniors Logan Hull (third at 140) and Dez Jakes (second at 152).
Hull will stay at 140, while Jakes will likely bump up a weight class to 160.
“Logan is a solid wrestler with great strength and balance. He’s working on improving his offense, which will play huge dividends toward his success,” Canter said. “Dez has looked extremely good thus far. (He’s a) non-traditional wrestler with a funky style that creates problems for his opponents. I look for big things from him.”
Other returners include junior David Blair (215 or heavyweight), sophomore Shaquille Cox (145) and Shawn Hull (140/145) and freshmen Bernard Ray (160/171) and Drew Newberry (189/215).
Spencer Hines and Caleb Canter, both eighth-graders, are competing for the starting spot at 103. Sophomore Marshall Miller will compete at 125 but is nursing injuries and should be ready for the start of the season, according to Gary Canter.
Other newcomers are sophomore Shelby Floyd (125/130), sophomores Vince Couch and Kris Sutherland (145/152), sophomore Cody Williams (152/160) and freshman David Masure and eighth-grader Cole Hughes (189).
“Most of the new wrestlers are young but have some experience, so the learning curve will not be so difficult to overcome,” Canter said. “They may not be a force early in the season, but as the year progresses I am sure they will be catching some eyes.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at 505-1752