Back in early December, GHS Head Coach John Kincade sat down for his annual pre-season interview with the Greenwood Dog Pound to discuss the 2022-23 wrestling campaign. At the time, his football players were about to join the team after the state championship game, and he was still unsure of exactly what to expect from a very young roster. Unsure, but hopeful. The Bulldogs’ wrestling program is now in its eleventh season, all under the tutelage of Kincade.
In that earlier interview, Coach K reflected on his team’s losses to graduation, including several departed seniors now wrestling on the college level like Hayden Rofkahr and Antonio Martinez, and how on earth was he to replace three-time state champion Tyler Crossno? The task before him and his staff was daunting and the outcome uncertain.
“We took a pretty good hit, so we’ve got to rebound and come back, [yet] we only have three seniors this year,” revealed the coach back in December. “But we’ve got a tremendous number of younger kids, which is good for the future.”
Those three seniors include Caden Erskine, Logan Taylor, and Michael Ruark. Erskine is the only Greenwood product, growing up in Coach K’s youth program, while the other two are recent move-ins. All three will be counted on heavily for leadership. Erskine has been with the GHS program almost since its inception and is currently ranked among the best in the state in his weight classification.
“I’m excited about this year,” Kincade said six weeks ago. “We’ve got younger kids and we’re going to have to coach them up a little bit more. It will be a growing year – kind of a gap year – but I’m excited about those kids coming up. We’re going to have some pretty good depth,” he added. “We’ve also got some kids that have been working hard. It’s just going to depend on how fast we can grow up and where we’re at [come] the end of the year.”
Seven weeks later, Coach K is starting to see the results of all that hard work and the benefit of wrestling a tough schedule. His Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs are starting to come together as he hoped they would, bringing the future into sharper focus. They may not yet be state championship caliber, but they are making great strides toward finishing the season among the state’s best in Class 5A.
The coach identified Van Buren and Lake Hamilton as the teams to beat this season, and Greenwood recently did just that, defeating Lake Hamilton last Thursday in a match held on the GHS campus. “We won that by about 14 points or so, 41 to 27. That was a good victory for us,” said Kincade, who credited two wrestlers in particular for the win, both juniors.
“We’ve got some younger guys coming through [for us] in the lower weights in Jarod Pace (126 lbs.) and Jackson Witherington (132). They beat some pretty good kids [from Lake Hamilton].” Kincade also revealed that both GHS wrestlers caught the eye of the head wrestling coach at Ouachita Baptist, who just happened to be in attendance last Thursday.
The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs are more than a dozen matches into their season schedule and the post-season is rapidly approaching. The dual state competition for girls is next week (Jan. 28th) at Sylvan Hills High School with the dual state tournament for boys on February 4th at Russellville. The 5A girls’ regionals are set for February 7th and the boys for February 17-18.
While all of Greenwood’s December matches were on the road, they did host Maumelle on January 5th and Lake Hamilton on the 12th, winning both competitions. Last Saturday, January 14th, Greenwood also hosted the Garrett Haralson Memorial Youth Tournament in memory of the GHS senior who tragically died in an auto accident in 2021.
A total of 26 teams and hundreds of youth wrestlers and their parents and coaches descended on the GHS campus last Saturday, with Coach Kincade’s Arkansas Warthawgs youth team taking second place with 297.5 points, 17.5 points behind first place Cabot. According to Coach K, there were 375 wrestlers involved in the tournament ranging in age from 5 to 14. The coach also said the number of youths involved in wrestling in Arkansas has more than doubled in the past year to over 1300. “It’s exploded and getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
In another recent tournament at Gravette in Northwest Arkansas on January 7th, the Bulldogs (177 points) placed second behind top ranked Van Buren (266.5). In that event, Caden Erskine placed first in his weight class (157 lbs.), Jarod Pace finished second at 126 pounds, Eli Whitaker placed second at 190 pounds, while Jonathan Martinez (106), Jackson Witherington (132), Rhett Williams (157), and Bryce Williams (215) all finished third. Kevin Yang (120), Landon Rofkahr (144), Pablo Ambriz (150), Michael Ruark (165), and Jacob Cruz (175) all placed fourth. In junior varsity action, GHS wrestler Jeremy Johnson also placed first at 132 pounds.
The Lady Bulldogs placed fourth among seven teams at Gravette. Farah Crossno finished second at 105 pounds, as did Sadie Marshall at 110 pounds, Jorja Betts at 115 pounds, and Mary Skacel at 155 pounds. Jayden Shaffer (125) and Kaylea Brooks (155) both placed third, and Lanie Atkinson (170) finished fourth.
“Our girls are really coming on,” said Coach K of his Lady Bulldogs, a few of which are ranked in the state. “I’m really excited about that, and we’re getting a lot of girls in our youth program as well.” The coach and his staff are continuing to recruit more female wrestlers for the program. Kincade stresses that he is not trying to entice girls away from the other sports on campus, but is recruiting young ladies who aren’t currently involved in athletics to try wrestling.
Just this week the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs competed at Pottsville and Van Buren with a weekend tournament slated for Conway on Friday and Saturday, January 20-21. They will also travel to Poteau, Oklahoma, on the 24th and to Sallisaw (OK) on February 2nd to close out their regular season schedule. After the dual state tournaments and the 5A regionals, the 5A state tournaments will be held at the University of Arkansas Little Rock on February 24-25.
Coach Kincade is very pleased with his team’s progress so far this season, saying, “It’s coming together. It all depends on how fast they grow up and they are growing up pretty quick. They have gone above and beyond my expectations. We have great kids in Greenwood and we have high expectations. Being in Greenwood, everybody is pulling on the same rope. You name the sport and every coach has high expectations and high demands, and that makes it easy for everybody, because no one is slacking off. When kids are used to working hard, they are getting there fast. They don’t balk [at hard work] and by doing that they are getting better. We’ve come a long way since the first of the [season].”
As for the approaching post-season, Coach K said, “We’re going to put ourselves in a good position just by qualifying a lot of kids for the state tournament, and if we can win a lot of those consolation matches, we can score a lot of points on the back side,” he explained. “We also need some guys to make the finals too, and that’s where we may not be there quite yet. Our expectations of where we could possibly be are pretty good. I’m very optimistic about finishing in the top three or four [in the state]. We’re moving up the ladder to [determine] how high we’re going to place.”