St. James wrestling upends Miege, falls to Aquinas in Catholic duals
Roeland Park From traveling to tournaments in Iowa, Illinois and Texas to take on the best competition possible, there aren't many venues that the St. James Academy wrestling team is not accustomed to.
The Thunder were in somewhat unfamiliar territory on Thursday, though, as they squared off in the Catholic duals against St. Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Miege. St. James suffered a 39-32 loss to Aquinas, but rebounded for a 66-18 rout of Miege.
"It's been five or six years since we've done a dual. I knew coming in when (St. Thomas Aquinas coach) Eric (Akin) and I were here (Miege), we were 15-0 in duals," said St. James coach Mike Medina of his high school wrestling days with the Stags. "We haven't done any duals, so the kids go out there and it is only you on the mat and the other wrestler, and it puts a lot of added pressure on them. It helps them get ready when they're in that heart-break round in regionals like, 'OK, I've been in this situation before. I think I can do it or I know I can.' We talk a lot about how losing is learning, and you have to lose matches like that to get better."
Senior Sammy Cokeley and juniors Drew Ernsdorff and Connor Weltmer won by fall in both duals for St. James. The Catholic duals doubled as senior night for all three schools, so Cokeley, Clay Lautt, Dominic Stean and TJ Miller were recognized prior to St. James taking on Aquinas.
Cokeley — a Cornell commit — said that the camaraderie between him, Lautt, Stean and Miller is closer than the normal senior class because of the tough schedule that the Thunder go through each year.
"We practice with each other every day. We're in a car ride six hours to Texas or Chicago or as far off into western Kansas — we're with each other the whole time when we're competing for wrestling," Cokeley, who is ranked No. 1 in Class 5A at 160 pounds, said. "Every time we're thinking what can we do to help make each other better, and what can we do to improve every day."
Also ranked No. 1 in his weight class is Lautt, who won by fall against Miege's Vincent Sanchez in 18 seconds, and won a 12-0 major decision over Aquinas' Anthony Gaona. Lautt normally wrestles at the 182-pound weight class, but he went up to 195 to get a tougher test against Gaona — who is ranked No. 4 in 5A.
"We knew he was a lot heavier," said Medina of Gaona. "Clay has wrestled 170 this year, and now all of a sudden he's wrestling 195. It was something that he needed to learn to move his feet and move his hands a lot more."
Lautt came into the Catholic duals with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. The North Carolina signee suffered his first loss of the season on Saturday at the Rocky Welton Invitational in Garden City.
"My goal was to be an undefeated state champ," Lautt, a two-time state champ, said. "It just gives me more motivation because I don't want to lose twice."
Medina believes that Lautt's loss to Scottsbluff's Salem Harsh could end up being a blessing in disguise.
"I do tell the kids that you only have to go undefeated at one tournament. I've seen a lot of young men go undefeated during the season — not always out seeking the best competition — and they lose when it counts," Medina said. "They lose at state. They're not prepared, and they haven't been in that situation before. We try to put our boys in a situation that they're going to be in at state."
The St. James coach is a big believer in that the most learning that a wrestler can do is through losing — especially for his more inexperienced wrestlers.
In the dual against Aquinas, freshman 138-pounder Michael Kumke lost on an escape in the final second, and junior 145-pounder Max Lutz suffered a heart-breaking defeat on a last-second takedown.
"It is a good experience. You have to lose to learn," Medina said. "It's too bad that a few of our good had to lose to learn today, but they did well. I was happy."
Lautt has also been encouraged by the performance of the younger Thunder wrestlers throughout the season. His younger brother, freshman Cade Lautt, has cracked the top six in the state rankings at the 152-pound class. Cade won by tech fall against Aquinas' Zane Fisher, before pinning Miege's Tommy Honnell in the first period.
"They've been improving each and every week. It's just nice to get some more matches," Clay said. "This is our only dual of the season. It's nice to get some more matches, get some more film to go through. It's just more stuff to build on."