Just nine months ago, Smoky Valley head wrestling coach Ben Elliot was watching history being made in Salina.
Former Viking Trevor Whittaker took his place on the medal podium at the Class 4A State Wrestling Tournament at the Salina Bicentennial Center, having dominated the 170-pound weight class with a 4-0 record over the two-day tournament in late February.
It was the first time a Smoky Valley wrestler had ever won a gold medal at state in the program’s then nine-year history.
“It was awesome,” Elliot said of Whittaker’s medal win. “It was so good to see the results of lots of years of hard work.”
The Vikings, as a team, finished 12th last year at the state tournament, with a third place finish from returning senior Spencer Bird at 160 pounds. They took first in the Central Kansas League and won the Circle, Halstead and Riley County tournaments, took third at Concordia and fourth at Augusta.
All this adds up to high expectations coming into the 2013-14 season. But, then, the Vikings’ head coach always sets the bar high.
“I have high expectations,” Elliot said. “I don’t think you change your expectations, you try to coach everyone up to meet them.”
Elliot will have a good core back from last year to work with, though, overall youth will dominate the Vikings. In addition to Bird, Elliot also brings back a second state qualifier in Caleb Sare, who went to Salina in the 106 pound division. Also back are Brandon Archuleta, Austin Cook, Brix Brickey and Ethan Loder.
Bird and Loder, who was just behind his brother, Weston, last year for a varsity spot, are the only two seniors Smoky Valley will have on the mat this season. The youth of the Vikings means that Elliot will be looking to his two seniors and his juniors to provide the leadership for his team.
“It will be huge,” Elliot said of the need for leadership from his upperclassmen. “We are looking for big things from our seniors and juniors, in terms of leadership, both on and off the mat.”
The Vikings open their season on Dec. 5 with a double dual against Abilene and Buhler.
Contact Chris Swick by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @SwickSentinel.