Team Kansas wrestling has been a major force to be reckoned with in recent years, and this year is shaping up to be no different. According to Coach Eric Johnson, he has a very special class this year that he is eager to bring out to Rocky Mountain Nationals in March. So far they have performed extremely well, participating in a number of tournaments on the national level and even placing second at Fargo. Every year Coach Johnson does the rankings for the entire state of Kansas, and then invites all of the number one wrestlers to be a part of his traveling team. It is often a challenge when it comes to the senior athletes, as many of them already have commitments to D-1 colleges. Still, Coach Johnson’s method of athlete selection always results in extremely talented teams, and this year is no exception. His team has great, nationally-ranked wrestlers that have really put Team Kansas on the map again this year. Even though his best guy is on the world team and will not be able to attend Rocky Mountain Nationals, Eric will be bringing about 15 state champions to Denver and is confident that they are well-prepared to dominate the competition.
Coach Johnson’s main goal for his team in 2017 is to increase participation at national tournaments. These events are great opportunities for his wrestlers to get mat time and grow their skills by testing themselves against the competition. Eric is always encouraging his team to participate in as many events as possible, as it is a great way to stay disciplined throughout the wrestling season. Team Kansas will be heading to Rocky Mountain Nationals just two weeks after their state tournament, but Eric wouldn’t have it any other way. Continuous competition will help the athletes keep their weights, stay focused, and also give them some extra folkstyle experience before heading to national-level championships across the country. Overall, every event is an important opportunity for the team to improve and grow.
With such consistently high performance, it is a wonder what makes Team Kansas so tough year after year. Coach Johnson’s theory is that their success can at least in part be attributed simply to their location within the country. He says that the Midwest has always been a hotbed for wrestling talent, and there are many talented junior college wrestlers there that get placed in great D-1 schools across the nation every year. Additionally, Eric thinks that the “Midwest experience” makes kids more disciplined and excited for the sport. Work ethic is also important to succeeding, as Eric believes that the key to making a champion is training harder than your opponent. According to Eric, the competition is always working hard, and if his athletes are not then they are falling behind.
Keeping his athletes motivated is also an important part of Team Kansas’s success. Especially this late in the season, it is easy for wrestlers to lose some of their drive to compete. Eric says that his ranking system is a great way to stay on top of this, as his wrestlers look forward to being recognized with a good ranking at the end of the season, and view the rankings as a reward for their hard work. Every year he makes exclusive t-shirts for all of his top wrestlers in each weight, and his athletes look forward to being recognized on the team in this way. Because of this system, all of the wrestlers are always doing their best to strive for those top spots, even when it is late in the season.
Ultimately, Eric’s goal is to keep his team growing every year and also to serve as a mentor to his wrestlers to the best of his ability, both on the mat and in their everyday lives. He talks to them about their faith and about their goals for after high school, preparing them for success later in life. At Rocky Mountain Nationals, Coach Johnson is eager to face Nebraska, as they have performed well historically, and also the Colorado teams. Although he mentioned that Colorado’s teams tend to be a bit fragmented, Eric says that they always bring out great wrestlers and he hopes that their teams continue to grow in the future. Overall, Rocky Mountain Nationals is one of Eric’s favorite trips to take with his team, and this year’s is bound to be another spectacular event!