Cards raising the Barr at state
It's hard enough to deal with the weight of another man on your back. Try carrying the weight of an entire program.
That's where Eudora junior wrestler Josh Barr found himself following the 4A regional tournament in Hiawatha last weekend.
Barr and his Cardinal teammates traveled to Hiawatha carrying hopes of regional success and state glory. But only Barr remains. The 189-pounder's masterful run through the competition earned him a regional championship and a No. 1 seed at the state tournament Friday and Saturday in Wichita.
But it also presented him with a tremendous responsibility.
It has been a difficult season for the young Cardinals. They have battled through inexperience, injuries and a fierce schedule. The prevailing voice of optimism says, "just wait until next year." In wrestling, however, next year begins at this year's end.
State wrestlers return from the tournament with points used in the subsequent season's rankings -- the first of Barr's burdens.
But for Eudora's most gifted grappler, there's more.
The Cardinals strong finish at league and regionals has spawned optimism for the current season as well as the next. There is a sudden realization that the 2003-04 season could be much more than a transitional period. It could go down as the year Eudora won a state championship.
Any kind of state medal could ease the months of growing pains endured by the program.
Head coach Bill DeWitt has maintained a constant and consistent focus regarding the season's end. Now, it's here.
Barr began feeling that pressure in Hiawatha.
"I just felt that somebody had to go to state, whether it was me or somebody else," he said.
It nearly could have been somebody else. Barr's teammates performed very well.
"It was pretty spectacular," DeWitt said. "All the kids wrestled really well -- honestly, the best they've wrestled all season long."
Sophomore Miles Cleveland (125 pounds) and junior Chris Durkin (215) each finished just one round short of state qualification. Cleveland went 3-2, Durkin 2-2.
Sophomore teammates Austin Calhoon and Andy Coffman each posted proud 2-2 records.
The team performed soundly, finishing in a tie for 11th place. But it was Barr's day.
He personified the determination allotted an athlete who has properly dedicated himself to the task. Barr's first two opponents were quick victims of pins.
"After the first two matches, I knew I was going to wrestle well all weekend," he said. "The pins were a big confidence booster."
His next two matches didn't offer much more resistance -- a pair of major decisions, 15-3 and 12-3.
"I felt that no one could beat me that day," he said. "It just seemed like everything was working for me."
DeWitt was impressed by his star junior.
"(Barr) absolutely dominated his weight class," he said. "He made a decision that he wouldn't be denied."
"I just sat there, drank my coffee, and enjoyed the ride."
Whether he totally enjoyed the view is a complex issue.
Barr busted out a vintage singlet circa 1974 for the finals.
"They looked pretty sweet," DeWitt said. "They gave me flashbacks of days gone by.
"But if he's going to wrestle like he did, then he can wear anything he wants."
The program is scheduled to order new uniforms at the end of next season. According to DeWitt, however, the team is already calling for the 70s singlets to be the official medal-round wear.
"We'll wear them until they fall apart, which shouldn't take long," he said.
Now the Cardinal hopeful has to raise the bar, refocus and prepare for Wichita.
"I'm going to go in with the same mindset as regionals -- that nobody is going to beat me," Barr said. "I'm going to go hard for six minutes."
Durkin, Coffman and junior William Bock have been valuable training partners for Barr during a time that most Kansas wrestlers are calling the off-season. He'll have to adjust to flying solo at the state tourney, though.
"It's going to be a little weird not having the other guys wrestling with me," Barr said. "The pressure's all on me. How I do is how the team is represented. I feel I need to do well to represent them all well."
Representative Barr is one of four No. 1 seeds in the 189-pound weight class. The top four placers from each of the four regions consummate the 16-man field.
The four No. 1's are Barr with a 32-9 record, senior Travis Camac (31-3) and juniors Jacob Marrs (28-2) and Ryan Seger (32-9).
Barr's first opponent is senior Erik Bluebaugh (27-10). They are scheduled for bout No. 93 Friday.