After three years of rebuilding the foundation of El Reno High School’s wrestling program, head coach Tyrone Lewis now feels the Indians are back on track to becoming the powerhouse it was during his prep career.
“There are a lot of things to feel good about. We are returning the third most in our region along with the likes of Altus, Piedmont and Lawton MacArthur. It’s something to build on and I’m excited about that,” said Lewis.
Another key factor for the 2018-19 season is something Lewis has not enjoyed much during his first three seasons at the Indians helm - depth. El Reno kicks off the dual season Thursday night at U.S. Grant with 37 wrestlers in grades nine through 12.
Factor in the junior high program and the wrestling complex at Adams Park is housing 63 total grapplers on a daily basis.
“That is the most we have had since I’ve been here. We are going to have to make some mat space that will allow us to separate the junior high and the high school with the numbers the way they are,” said Lewis.
It’s not a bad problem to have for a program which dominated high school wrestling from 1996 to 2007 with 11 dual state championships and 11 Oklahoma State High School Wrestling Championships.
“The luxury we have is depth. We have guys that are hungry to put in the work and the time and that’s a good problem to have,” said Lewis.
El Reno has a strong nucleus of wrestlers back from last year’s team which posted a 5-5 record in dual matches and was runner-up in the district duals to Duncan.
The Indians have six wrestlers returning who made it to the Class 5A State Championships and five more who were in the running for state at the regional meet before falling just shy of the top four in their weight classes.
While the first rankings are not set to be released until Friday, said Lewis, El Reno has been tabbed high in both the dual and tournament rankings.
“The rankings have not been released but there are some predictions which the coaches will have going into the season to have some idea of where to start ranking people.
“On this side of the state they have us ranked two to three and as a whole they have us four to five. It’s great to be recognized but we have got a lot of work to do to keep that momentum going,” said Lewis.
The six state qualifiers back are led by Parker Avendano and Kord LaFoe, who were both state silver medalists. Avendano dropped a close 6-2 match to Del City’s Romanual Rogers in the 106-pound finale last season and closed his junior year with a 33-3 record.
LaFoe made it to the 152-pound championship match after upsetting the state’s top-seeded wrestler. In the title match he dropped a narrow 4-2 score to Collinsville senior Tony Connor and closed his sophomore campaign with a 35-8 mark.
Jacob Catagas is battling an ankle injury but will factor into the lineup once healthy. Jacob Law and Johnnie Perkins both won matches at state last year and Cole Thomas had several close matches inside the Big House.
“Those six in the lineup and where they fall, when talking about duals, statistically they have the potential to score us a bunch of bonus points,” said Lewis.
Those who missed state a year ago but will be key elements this season are Kaden Bowers, Payton Haskins, Layton Hockersmith, Xavier Oquendo and Warren Martin.
Lewis says his team has work to do in order to shore up its lower and upper weights. He added the team has the potential to dominate any foe on the mat from the 145- to 189-pound weight classes.
“Due to some unfortunate circumstances, we lost some people that could have been really helpful to us in our lower weights, but that’s the name of the game. We’ve got some things to figure out from there to about 138 pounds.
“There are going to be battles for spots week to week. We hold a high standard in the room and none is assured to be a starter just because they are a state placer or had an undefeated record,” said Lewis.
Lewis added the daily battle to hold your place on the depth chart is what brings success later in the year when teams are being tabbed as state title contenders.
“What we have stressed going into the season is that each wrestler makes a small deposit every day toward building the foundation. Your end goals will not happen today, but you have got to make those small deposits every day so that you can make that big withdrawal at the end of the season.
“You have got to work toward and live the championship lifestyle and you cannot cut corners,” said Lewis.
Lewis added the team has three major goals this season - the first starts with returning to dual state. El Reno has not been to the elite eight since 2007 and last year’s loss to Duncan was the closest the program had been.
“The three goals we have this year are winning the academic state championship which we lost by a really close margin last year. We want to win the district dual and get back to dual state, and then get to regional and see if we can get what I feel like can be as many as 12 wrestlers to state,” said Lewis.