MANCHESTER — The trophies are displayed in a large case in the commons area outside of the West Delaware gymnasium.
Reminders of the title sweep at the state dual and traditional tournaments last season — the school’s fourth and fifth in wrestling. No doubt they have been admired by parents, fans and faculty.
Do you know who isn’t fixated on the mementos? The current Hawk wrestlers.
“It’s really a new team and a new goal,” Hawks senior Luke Farmer said. “We set a 95/5 rule. We’re going to put 95 percent of our focus on the future and 5 percent on the past. We’re going to put last year’s titles in the rearview mirror and we really don’t think about it anymore.”
West Delaware returns many pieces from last year’s Class 2A championship team, including 11 starters and five state medalists. The Hawks possess the talent to contend for their first back-to-back state titles.
West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss made his expectations clear from the start.
“We walked in the room the first day of practice and Voss said we aren’t going to talk about last year,” Two-time state medalist Jack Neuhaus said. “What’s done is done. We’re moving forward. We only talk about our next dual.”
The philosophy doesn’t revolve around defending or chasing a crown. The goal is for daily improvement with hopes of being their best at the end of the season and the rest will take care of itself.
“We don’t return the most points from the state tournament, so our goal is not to be a ditto,” Voss said. “We don’t want to be the same now than at the end of the year. If we’re dittoes, we’re going to be a good team, but we have to get better if we’re going to be a great team.”
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Voss said he is pleased with the atmosphere in the practice room, so far. The Hawks have taken things into their own hands, demanding a lot from teammates and supporting each other during workouts.
The team has established a “we before me” mentality.
“The thing I really like about this year’s team is they’re not just concerned with themselves getting better,” Voss said. “They are concerned with the people around them getting better and that probably has me more excited than anything.
“Every single kid in there is encouraging each other to keep improving and they are holding themselves accountable.”
The Hawks went 20-2 last season, winning their second straight Wamac Conference tournament title and first state traditional championship since 2013. They completed the state sweep for the first time since 1991.
Sophomores Jadyn Peyton and Wyatt Voelker placed fourth at state last season. Juniors Cael Meyer and Carson Petlon reached the podium in Des Moines. Neuhaus, 2018 state qualifier Evan Woods, Farmer and Ben Petlon are the only senior letterwinners.
Despite the talented underclassmen, Voss said the seniors are the glue that has held the team together the last three seasons. They have won 25 or more matches, but their leadership has made a bigger impact.
“We came up through the ranks and no one was like you’ve got to watch this (one) kid because he’s super talented,” Farmer said. “I think we’ve all worked really hard to get to where we’re at. It sets an example of what buying into our culture, the mind-set and what working hard can do for you.”
The Hawks have a strong camaraderie. An annual summer wrestling clinic has strengthened relationships, camping out and sleeping in tents during the weeklong trip. The bond allows them to battle one other in practice and express appreciation for it when they’re done.
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“We just beat the crap out of each other every day,” said Neuhaus, who is practice partners with Voelker. “We give each other a hug at the end and say thanks.
“Our pace in practice is definitely going up. I think we’re working harder (and) we can come out just as good as or better than last year.”
In addition to six with state meet experience, five more have qualified for district. The Hawks have incoming freshmen and reserves that will challenge for spots, giving Voss one of his deepest rosters that has grown to 47.
“What I see in the room is pretty exciting,” Voss said. “There is a lot of good wrestling, right now. If they just continue to improve from until the end, we’ll have a solid team.”
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