When Ty Brown became the first-ever wrestling head coach at Denmark before last season, he knew he had the tall task of building the new program from the ground up.
But instead of a large, already-set foundation to build on in his second year at the helm, Brown started this year with a partial reset with just seven returners. For some on last year’s team, the sport was too demanding or just wasn’t what they expected.
“It's a little discouraging,” Brown said. “You invest several months in these guys and work with them and develop a little bit of a relationship with them. Just personally, it's just one of those obstacles you overcome. We've got a new group of guys who are working hard and are pretty passionate about getting in the room and excited about working together.
“That's what I try and focus on — the positives of what we're doing in the room and how everybody's performing.”
Although Denmark is still a program looking to find its footing, it’s seen its fair share of individual successes this season, particularly from the guys that stuck around.
At the Lambert Hook ‘Em Holiday Clash last week, junior Ethan Culbreth finished the weekend fourth in his 32-man bracket, and fellow returning teammates Zach Recker and Arthur Marsden were in the tournament until the last day of the event.
“I've been feeling pretty good, getting some wins over some good guys,” Culbreth said. “That third-place match, I was up. I really wish I would have won that one, but overall I felt like I was wrestling pretty good.”
Marsden, also a member of the Danes’ football team for the past two years, has been a leader on the wrestling squad as well. He did his best to encourage others from football to join, succeeding in helping bring in junior Trey Patterson.
Marsden has seen quite a difference in the team’s overall focus as a senior.
“Last year we had everybody who thought the sport looked cool join,” Marsden said. “Now it's more, we want to do good. We want to compete, and those people who want to compete are here.”
But being competitive takes a lot of work and time, especially for a program that’s still growing. The whole process has been somewhat of a learning experience, even for Brown.
Having come from Creekview, an established program, his coaching style has changed to fit his new situation.
“Looking back from last year and reflecting, I probably ran practices a little bit too intense to what I was used to running at a well-established program,” Brown said. “A lot of these first-year guys, (it) maybe might have scared them away because they don't have the long term vision of, ‘Hey, this is going to make me better in three years.’
“You want to compete, you want to try and win, but at the same time, you just take it for what it is. In a couple of our dual matches, we've had to forfeit five weight classes. Starting a dual meet 30 points in the hole is not what you want to do, but at the same time, putting first-year guys out there against a kid you know is pretty tough isn't going to help you much, either.”
That doesn’t mean the younger wrestlers have been content to stay in their comfort zones, though. At the Lambert tournament, Diego Gomez Sanchez moved up from JV and logged his first-ever varsity win.
“I'm encouraged by them,” Marsden said. “They seem like they want to stick with the sport. They seem like they enjoy the sport and that's how we're going to build on this team.”
While Marsden will be gone after this year is over, wrestlers like Recker, Culbreth and John Mau will be back to help guide the ones that have come in this year. With Culbreth and Recker being state qualifiers last year with another chance to get back and perhaps go further, Brown hopes his leaders’ examples can drive the program into a bright future.
“Hopefully in the next few years, we're going to have a group of guys that know what it takes and know they've got a teammate who accomplished (a lot) and how hard (Ethan) worked,” Brown said. “They see the benefits of his labor and they can associate that with their own work ethic.”