Woodland Park Wrestlers Hit the Mat With New Coach and Veteran Stars

(Brent Murphy/BrentMurphyPhoto.com)

Girls Get to Compete For First Time Against Female Grapplers

Trevor Phipps

After a month delay due to COVID, the Woodland Park Panther wrestlers finally hit the mat.

Unfortunately, this year the team is much smaller due to high school male grapplers choosing not to compete because of the pandemic, along with students moving away, and graduating.

The team also has a new coach this year as former coach Keith Sieracki moved to Texas. For the 2021 year, Casey Hankin, the father of star wrestler Brady Hankin,  will now take the head wrestling team reins.

According to Hankin, the team is much smaller this year. This means that every student choosing to wrestle will have a spot. However, the small team means that the Panthers are unable to fill a lineup.

Even though it is Hankin’s first year as the team’s head coach, he has participated as an assistant coach for the last two years. That’s when his son Brady joined the team. Casey Hankin has been a coach for more than 20 years, and he sported a career as a wrestler himself in junior college and the NCAA. He also has trained two state champion sons, including Brady, since they were in elementary school.

Hankin has much confidence in his team this year,  and  believes that any of their team grapplers has a chance to make it to the state tournament. “Their intensity level is very high and their work ethic is very high,” the coach said. “The entire team is living up to the expectations I set for them. I told them that what I want out of them every day is two hours of no talking, no friendships, nothing but wrestling. And I told them I want them to focus on their intensity level. When they battle, they are battling to win. I also told them I want them to focus on doing everything correctly.”

Hankin said that the team this year has really impressed him. The only weakness he cites is a lack of practice. “The main thing they can get better at is they need more time,” Hankin explained. “We were not able to do a lot of things off-season due to COVID. The main weakness of the team is a lack of experience and we are dealing with that the best we can.”

The team’s main star, Brady Hankin, has won the state championship the last two years and he plans to win again for his final two years at Woodland Park.  However, Brady this year will be wrestling at 138 pounds, which is a heavier weight than he wrestled in last year. In fact, it is much higher than when he competed as a freshman.

“Brady is definitely talented but the biggest thing with him is that he was very driven at a very young age,”  Casey Hankin said. “He was just out there to fight even as a little kid. He has had that tenacity, will to win and will to learn since he started. I think that starting at such a young age, he was able to hone in on concepts really well because of that focus and work ethic that he has always had. At this point he just picks up new concepts the minute he sees them. I think he is going to continue to get better even at the college level.”

Other potential star wrestlers on the team this year include Adam Garner who wrestles at 195 pounds; and his fraternal twin brother, Eli Garner, who competes in the 182-pound class. Hankin said that this year it is harder for the WP wrestlers to qualify for the state competition because they must get first or second place at the regionals. However, the coach said that once the wrestlers make it to the state tournament, it will be easier for them to place.

Lady Grapplers Compete Against Each Other For First Time in Colorado School History

For the 2021 season, the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) changed the rules and have now opened up wrestling just for girls. In the past, ladies could compete in the sport but they had to wrestle boys.

Now more girls have joined the sport since they have the option of competing against other females.

Last year the wrestling team had one girl wrestler. This year, they have four that will be competing. But since the team is so small, they will be teaming up with girl wrestlers in Manitou Springs in order to have enough competitors for a team that can go to the seven scheduled meets.

This year to help with social distancing, the girls will be practicing separately from the boys. Dustin Rodriguez will be the girls’ coach this year after being the skipper for the local junior wrestling club.

Two of the girls on the team have previous experience.  One of the top WP lady grapplers wrestled for the last seven years, and another wrester is entering her second season. The other two on the team are new to wrestling.

One star wrestler on the team, Trinity Diamond, is a returning state qualifier. Diamond third in regionals,  but then she got the flu right before state and was unable to compete to her fullest ability.

According to Rodriguez, Trinity and the other wrestlers have a chance to qualify for state this year. “The girls have always had good conditioning,” the girls’ coach said. “Woodland Park is known for their conditioning programs. Obviously, the altitude helps us so when we go down to lower altitude our runs are pretty good. I also think they are going to be good mentally because we really focus on mental strength during practice. And we work on a lot of offense.”

Rodriguez said that girls’ wrestling has been growing in popularity across the country partially due to the increased fame of female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters. “Colleges are handing out scholarships to girl wrestlers like candy right now it is crazy,” Rodriguez said. “It is definitely a growing sport. I get emails from colleges all the time asking me about the wrestlers I have. The girls can beat people up without getting in trouble for it and a lot of the girls like it.”