Kernel wrestling stares down uncertainty as pandemic rages
Uncertainty is normal at the beginning of high school wrestling season, but this year is completely different.
Coaches typically work wrestlers into shape during the early portion of the season, fiddle with lineups and decide where wrestlers fit best as their weights fluctuate. All of the tinkering is usually done in hopes of improving as the season progresses in order to peak at the end of the season.
But Mitchell High School head coach Andy Everson does not know if his team, or any other, will have a chance to find their peak under normal circumstances. Without knowing if the COVID-19 pandemic could halt the prep wrestling, usual progression plans go out the window for the Kernels.
“I think this year is going to be less focused on trying to get better every day and more focused on trying to maintain what we’ve had,” Everson said. “Each guy only gets an hour in the wrestling room, so we’ve got to focus on maintaining the technique that we have. We’re not going to have a lot of time to build on new techniques. It’ll be a lot of going over the old stuff and just being thankful we’re in even in there.”
The South Dakota High School Activities Association has recommended several changes to the wrestling season , which has also led to some drastic alterations to Mitchell’s practice habits.
The Kernels are wearing masks in the wrestling room as frequently as possible, and because the practice space is small, Everson has split the team into two groups. One group begins practice in the wrestling room, while the rest lifts weights and runs, with a switch halfway through practice.
SDHSAA recommendations limit physical coaching demonstrations to one group of kids per day. One of Everson’s best strengths as a coach lies in teaching kids techniques and skills learned as a Division I wrestler at South Dakota State University. He has assigned one assistant coach to each group and he will spar with another assistant during demonstration times.
“It’s difficult in a sport like this to explain what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it without being able to show them,” Everson said. “I think we’ll figure it out and we’ll get through it. We’ll make it work somehow.”
Mitchell could have an advantage as the roster has turned from youthful to experienced, with 16 wrestlers returning with at least 15 varsity matches from a season ago. Juniors Beau Foote, Joe Van Overschelde and Tucker Vilhauer all placed at the state tournament last season, as did senior Wyatt Winter.
Despite losing state place-winners Kyler Bauder and Ryan McGinnis to graduation, the Kernels return 10 of 12 state qualifiers from last season and Everson expects them to take a step forward despite COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s super frustrating for (the pandemic) to come around as we’re coming into our prime with that group growing up, maturing and getting to that age where they’re going to start to develop,” Everson said. “But they’re a very resilient group to begin with. I think they’ll just roll with it and that’s not easy.