By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The threat of inclement weather forced the Columbus Titans wrestling team to leave a day early for this weekend’s Class 4A state tournament in Salina.
However, the Titans don’t view the sudden schedule change as a distraction. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to focus on wrestling alone before the tournament starts at noon Friday.
“It definitely is a factor that we don’t have to worry about school work,” Columbus senior Gavin Houser said on Wednesday afternoon from the team’s hotel in Salina. “It gives us the opportunity to be with each other as a team. Pretty much everyone at the hotel is here for wrestling, so the whole atmosphere is about wrestling.”
Houser, ranked No. 2 in the state 195 pounds, enters the tournament with a 28-9 record after winning his regional this past weekend at Pittsburg.
He will face Wellington junior Taylon Lamkin (21-16) in the first round. It is the start to a good draw for Houser, who finished sixth at state as a junior. The first, third and fourth-ranked wrestlers are on the other side of the bracket.
Houser hopes to end his high school career as a state champion.
“It would mean a lot, because it’s probably the last tournament I will wrestle in my life,” Houser said. “I’m not going to wrestle in college.”
Another Titan with title aspirations is 152-pound sophomore Taylor Watkins. He enters as the regional champion and is ranked third in the state with a 32-5 record.
Watkins, who finished third in the 138-pound division at state last year, opens Friday against Baldwin senior Colton Horne (23-16).
Columbus coach Eric Napier said Houser and Watkins both have a good chance at winning state titles.
“He (Watkins) will probably face the top-ranked guy in the semifinals,” Napier said. “He’ll be ready. I’m confident he can knock him off if he’s on target.
“Houser’s wrestling really well right now. They are both capable of being in the finals.”
Columbus 120-pound junior Derek Creel (14-18) faces a tough first-round draw in Andale’s top-ranked Tyler Mies (31-4).
A three-time state qualifier, Creel said he knows what to expect.
“I have to go out there and do my best and give it all I got,” he said. “My goal is to place at state.”
Freshmen Zack Roark (160) and Jace McDown (170) are looking forward to their first state tournament.
“We’ve been working for this since we were little kids,” McDown said. “We’ve been wrestling together pretty much our whole lives. It would be awesome to place as a freshman.”
Roark (17-7) will face Atchison’s sixth-ranked Tyler Harris (27-4), while McDown (26-12) will match up against Colby junior Andrew Taylor (35-5).
Six Pittsburg Purple Dragons also will be in the state tournament.
Regional champion Gershom Avalos (220) is ranked second in the state with a 31-6 record. The senior will face DeSoto sophomore Jeremy Slitor (10-4) in the first round. Avalos could very well see Jefferson West’s top-ranked Justin Scott (35-0) in the semifinals.
At 106 pounds, Levi Kester (21-13) will take on Winfield’s Bryce Ledford (15-16). Fifth-ranked Jeremiah Jones (33-6) will meet Andale’s Hunter Furnish (20-7) in the 113-pound division. At 120 pounds, Joey Wools (15-10) will face Mulvane’s Blake Cusick (29-8). Brett Cobb (22-14) will compete at 132 pounds against Rose Hill’s third-ranked Jake Wilson (30-4). At 195 pounds, Ivan Carrell-Beasly (12-14) will go against Hugoton’s Bradley Campbell (17-7).
Frontenac’s Tanner Craig (35-8) will meet Concordia’s fifth-ranked Drake Hake (30-2) in the 138-pound weight class.