’Cats on the mat feature mix of youth, experience

When the Marshalltown wrestling team hits the mat for the first time this season against Ankeny

Centennial today, it will do so with an interesting mixture of veterans and rookies to high school competition.

Bobcats head coach Mike Mann said before Wednesday’s practice that his team is currently made up of mainly seniors and freshmen, which creates a unique dynamic in the wrestling room.

“Between the sophomores and the juniors there are only six or seven in each grade, so those classes are really thin,” Mann said. “We have about 15 or so seniors and about that many freshmen, so we are heavy on the freshmen and seniors this year.”

While having so many freshmen isn’t a bad thing for a program, as it shows interest in the sport for the future, Mann said it can be difficult having to bring all the fresh faces up to speed. He said having such a strong senior class has helped bring the newer athletes along, especially since they are willing to work with the younger Bobcats.

“It helps out in practice because then they can partner up,” he said. “The older guys know the drills that we’ve been through and don’t have the deer in the headlights, what are we doing look. From that aspect it’s been good, and we have plenty of senior leadership.”

Heading that group of seniors is Brian Trowbridge, who returns for his senior season as a top competitor in the 170-pound division. Trowbridge finished in third at the district meet last year while wrestling at 160 pounds, narrowly missing out on a state qualification, and Mann said he has some potential to make noise his senior year if he puts in the work.

“He played baseball so I didn’t see him at all this summer and he didn’t go to camp with us, but he’s just a good athlete,” Mann said. “He will have to improve this year because obviously things get tougher when you’re a senior if you want to qualify through districts and go to state.”

Other seniors like Decker Mann at 220 pounds, Jordan Fox at 195 pounds and Logan Baccam at 138 pounds give Marshalltown a good chance for points on any given night in duals.

A trio of sophomores return after a good freshman season as well, with Jordan Anderson, Zach Bitker and Jay Drummer all looking to make strides now with a year of varsity competition under their belts.

Mann said so far in practice, no individual has stepped into the spotlight as the strongest competitor, but sometimes in the sport of wrestling it takes getting out and facing someone from another team to truly get the competitive juices flowing.

“There’s always kids that are surprisers, what I call gamers, they might just be so-so in practice but you get them in front of the lights and you get them in front of the crowd and you think ‘wow, they really rise to the occasion,'” Mann said. “Sometimes it can go the other way, but it’s always good to see those kids that really excel under pressure, under the lights, under a crowd because you don’t wrestle championships in the wrestling room.”

After a 7-16 season last year, the Bobcats are looking to improve on their dual record to give them a better chance at good seedings in the district meet. Mann said earning wins early on in the season before the calendar turns over to 2018 will go a long way towards reaching that goal.

“What we have tried to accomplish over the last couple of years now is we’ve got to get wins early,” he said. “If you can win on Thursday night in that dual and then obviously you have three Thursdays before Christmas and three Saturdays so that’s roughly five matches a week. If you can be an 80 percent winning record, that goes a long way toward having a winning percentage so you can be seedable at districts. That’s really where the rubber meets the road.”

In his time leading the Bobcats, Mann hasn’t seen a team finish with a winning dual record, and he said what he would truly consider a success from this season is achieving what his teams haven’t done before.

“I told the kids earlier, since I’ve been head coach I don’t think we’ve won much more than six dual meets a year,” he said. ” It’s been kind of a challenge, we’ve adjusted the schedule so that we can be competitive. I’m not trying to say winning and losing is everything, but it is certainly kind of a benchmark.”

What will go a long way towards making that goal a reality, Mann said, is just his guys going out and improving every chance they get.

“It really boils down to each person trying to get better and the biggest thing you struggle with is how many points do we give up,” Mann said. “Are we giving up bonus points? Are we getting pinned? If we are winning are we just happy to win or are we getting bonus points? Because we are not at a point right now where we can not afford to get bonus points if we can get them.”

Marshalltown wrestling will look to start off on the right foot tonight when it hosts Ankeny Centennial, starting with junior varsity matches at 6:30 p.m. at the Roundhouse.