PAOLA, Kan. — Early risers at one Miami County high school have big dreams in mind.
It’s an all-in season at Paola High School. Eight seniors lead the way for the school’s talented wrestling team, and they’ve taken the Panthers to a top-five ranking in Kansas Class 4A. As of Wednesday, Paola was ranked No. 4 in the state.
Wednesday morning’s practice shows their dedication, as wrestlers gathered at the school for a 6 a.m. practice before classes. No one complained of being too sleepy. This club was ready to work.
“In the sport of wrestling, we express that you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Paola Coach Darvin Willard said.
The Panthers have given their opponents the runaround, winning 13 of their 14 dual meets, and stumping the competition by 15 points or more each time.
“They jumped on board. They’ve never taken their foot off the gas pedal. They’re in this thing to the end,” Willard said.
Eight seniors lead Paola High’s boys wrestling team. They’ve all competed together since they were young mat rats in the local youth wrestling program.
“We knew we had this group coming through, and this class. It’s the one we were hoping to have some real success with come our senior year,” said Charlie Zeller, Paola’s 157-pound wrestler.
“We have been told we’re arguably the best team to go through Paola High School. We want to finish it off winning state as a team,” said Sheldon Martin, the Panthers 150-pound wrestler.
The Panthers don’t hold these early morning practices often. The one on Wednesday morning allowed the boys team to see the school’s girls wrestling squad compete in the afternoon.
However, it’s that kind of dedication that coaches here believe could lead the Panthers to the school’s first state wrestling title in 22 years.
Paola’s neighbors from Tonganoxie are ranked fifth in Kansas Class 4-A. The KSHSAA State Wrestling Championships are scheduled for February 24-25.