By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
It's an approach that might seem backward, but it certainly seems to work for the Camanche High School wrestling team.
For several years, coach Brent Carstensen has remained positive through some trying times because of a strong crop of wrestlers in the youth program. He saw a glimpse of what the future holds. Now, the high school fans are starting to see it, too.
"He knew that we had a good freshman class coming in and knew that we had a good group of kids that were going to turn the program around," said Brice Everson, one of this year's freshmen in the varsity lineup. "Within the next few years, there's going to be a lot of kids with great talent coming through."
The first wave of the youth movement has arrived, and it's a case of the young leading the old.
"They bring some leadership that our seniors need," Carstensen said. "They bring some desire and some talent that validate all the stuff our seniors have been hearing for four years but were never able to apply or see it applied on the mat — the practicing the skills right, drilling correctly, being good partners for each other. This younger group has a very good work ethic. They're leading from underneath. From ninth grade, they're leading the seniors.
"It's too bad for the seniors, but as a miniature example of life, the freshmen are not only helping us in the wrestling room, but they're helping us become young men because they're really a mature, focused, well-mannered group."
Carstensen admits that he was concerned about having a situation where the leaders also were the newcomers. Ironically, he also is getting some senior leadership, but that, too, comes from a newcomer. Shykeem Williams, a transfer from Argo High School in Summitt, Ill., will become eligible soon. A sectional qualifier last year in the large-school class in Illinois, Williams will fill a void at 170 pounds.
"He's a quality kid," Carstensen said. "He's going to be fun come into sectionals."
Camanche also recently added junior Paul Shuker, and Carstensen said by the time Williams becomes eligible, the Indians should fill 12 of the 14 weights. Considering the damage forfeits have done — they were the difference between losing and winning two of three duals Tuesday night — that could be huge.
The Indians (3-7 in duals) already have tripled their win total from a year ago. The two individuals with the best records are Everson and fellow freshman Jeremy Sorem. Sorem is 14-4 at 106 pounds with five pins, while Everson is 17-2 with six falls, five technical falls and three major decisions. He is ranked ninth at 113 pounds in Class 2A by thepredicament.com, and both his losses have come to wrestlers ranked fifth in the state — Bryce Meyers of Class 3A Fort Madison and Brendan Gould of 2A Assumption.
Everson entered the season with high expectations after winning the schoolboy state title last winter.
"It definitely did give me some confidence," he said of the title, "but I know that at the high school level it's starting over and no one cares that I won state as an eighth-grader."
Opponents might not be impressed, but Carstensen has been impressed by his entire freshman class.
"They have solid basics," he said. "They don't give up position, they don't get out of position, they recognize when somebody else is out of position and they capitalize on it. They don't necessarily wait and hang out for that big five-point throw or to win with that big, one flashy move. They know they have a whole repertoire of two points here, three points there, a one point escape, and they can keep coming. They can win it by points; they don't just have to get a headlock to win it."
Carstensen credits the Camanche youth program for building the solid foundation.
"There are a couple of sets of parents who are in charge." he said. "Tricia Everson is big, and Stacy Kinkaid. They have groups of four or five moms under them who are go-getters and will do fundraisers or drive to camps. We'll be carpooling 40 or 50 kids, and these parents come together and organize it up.
"Ryan Kinkaid and Wade Everson are instrumental in organizing a solid practice plan. They have a set progression throughout the entire junior season."
Parental involvement is a key, Carstensen said.
"The last four years or so, we've noticed that when we send the kids home from practice there's only one or two kids on our entire team that had parents that actually wrestled, so when they go home, they go home missing out on that," he said. "This younger group, they have parents that have been involved. Maybe they didn't wrestle but they've been involved in that junior program, and they know the things that, when you send them home, what a diet is and what healthy choices are, what skin infections are. They've learned it through the junior program. It really helps, so when they come into the (high school) wrestling room we can focus more on coaching and stepping up to practice."
The junior program has provided a ray of hope during the trying times the past few years when student interest in the Camanche high school program seemed to be waning.
"It's light at the end of the tunnel," Carstensen, a former high school state champion at Camanche, said. "It's encouraging as a coach to know you're going to have kids that are going to be smiling more often and enjoying the sport a lot more. The hardest part for me hasn't necessarily been that we haven't been winning, it's that the kids haven't been enjoying the sport like I love the sport because they haven't been winning. I enjoy that the love of the sport is going to be coming back to Camanche at a greater level."
Knowing what the program has at the junior high level just makes things even more enjoyable for the coach.
"This seventh- and eighth-grade group below us, they already challenge these ninth-graders when they come in to work out with us," Carstensen said. "It's encouraging to see the future."
Carstensen stresses, though, that the future is not a long way away. He believes the team will have at least one representative at the state tournament this year. Maybe more than one.
"That's been our chant all year long," he said. "When these kids start bowing out or want to skip practice, I just keep telling them, 'We're going to Des Moines; somebody is going to go to Des Moines this year. If you bow out or don't come out for the sport or start skipping practices, you're not invited for our vacation, for our special trip.' They know that's going to happen. It's not a possibility. It's going to happen."