Head coach Seth Livingston says the Paducah Tilghman wrestling team always enters the season with high expectations. The Blue Tornado are certainly meeting those standards so far this year.
“We’ve been with a lot of these guys for four or five years, and we’ve spent a lot of time with them,” Livingston said. “Wrestling is a sport where you get what you earn. So the more time you put in, the more you get out of it. And most of our guys train pretty much year-round.”
With dual-meet victories over Calloway County, Caldwell County, Great Crossing, Conner and Apollo, the Tilghman wrestlers are 5-0 heading into tonight’s home meet against Henderson County. So, despite the adversity brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, things are going well.
“We’ve started out pretty strong,” Livingston said. “We only lost a few (individual) matches in each one of our duals so far, and we’ve had some good wins.”
The meet at Great Crossing (Georgetown), which also featured teams from Conner and Apollo, was especially fruitful for the Blue Tornado.
“We lost only three matches that day out of 42,” Livingston said.
Livingston spoke with The Sun on Tuesday after the Tornado returned from a trip to Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where they competed against teams from Missouri and Tennessee.
“It was a six-man scramble. They didn’t keep a team score, but we did really well,” Livingston said of the meet.
The latest statewide dual rankings, which were released Wednesday, reveal just how well the Tilghman wrestling team has fared in 2021, as kentucky wrestling.com has the Tornado ranked No. 3 behind Union County and Ryle. They’re also No. 3 in the individual rankings thanks to placing 10 wrestlers in the top 10 of their respective weight classes.
Senior Eli Peyton and freshman Malachi Rider are ranked No. 3 at 132 and 145 pounds, respectively, as the Tornado’s top-rated wrestlers.
Peyton, a team captain, said the team has certainly put in the necessary work to succeed during competitions.
“We practice really hard. We don’t have many breaks in the season, so we don’t get much time off. It’s definitely a tough grind, but we’re doing well this year,” he said. “I feel like we’re practicing hard enough to where we’re going to be a state championship contender.”
As a senior, Peyton has been leading by example.
“I work hard,” he said. “If there’s something we’re doing where we’re not supposed to go hard, I’m going hard anyway. I just try to get everybody to give their all.”
Livingston takes pride in Peyton’s dedication to the sport.
“Eli put in a really good offseason and is super focused this year,” he said. “It’s hard trying to find matches because of COVID-19, but any opportunity he could find, he was wrestling and was in the weight room getting stronger. He’s a tough kid who’s doing well.”
As for Rider, Livingston said he currently boasts an 8-0 record.
“Malachi had a good football season as a running back for the football team, and he’s put a lot of time in and come a long way,” he said.
Livingston also praised freshman Uriah Virzi, who is ranked No. 5 in the state in the 220-pound weight class. The remaining state-ranked wrestlers for the Tornado include senior Seth Slayton (No. 4 at 170 pounds), senior David Conner (No. 5 at 160 pounds), junior Jayden Frazier (No. 6 at 126 pounds), freshman Jack James (No. 7 at 138 pounds), junior Ashur Jones (No. 8 at 120 pounds), senior Matt Mooney (No. 8 at 285 pounds), junior Kolby Koepp (No. 10 at 152 pounds) and junior Spencer Redwine (No. 14 at 182 pounds).
Having so many state-ranked wrestlers is a testament to all the hard work the Tornado put in during practice, Redwine said.
“We’re practicing hard and going out and competing,” he said. “This is where we live right here (at practice), and then we get to go out and compete and show what we’ve got.”
As a captain, Redwine displays his leadership in much the same way as Peyton.
“Just being an example and someone you can count on and watch,” Redwine said of his leadership style. “Just doing everything right and showing them what to do.”
While the Tornado have had no shortage of success this season, the team has been fortunate to not be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as much as others around the state, Livingston said.
“We have a lot of support here, so we’ve been really fortunate. But around the state, it’s been devastating,” he said. “I know a lot of programs that are usually strong have really low numbers this year. It’s affected our middle school numbers negatively.
Kids not being in school, it’s hard to get in front of them, and it’s hard to get them to practice since a lot of them don’t have a way to get here. A lot of youth programs around the state aren’t even happening this year.”
Limits on crowd sizes at competitions has also been a hindrance in terms of growing awareness for the sport.
“COVID-19 has been a barrier to the program gaining exposure,” Livingston said.
Nonetheless, the Tornado are excited for tonight’s home meet — one of just two meets they’ll host this season — as they’ll be celebrating Senior Night in front of a limited number of family and friends.
“Senior Night is going to be awesome because my mom and everyone is going to be able to celebrate the progress I’ve made from when I started all the way until now,” Peyton said.
Tilghman is set to face Henderson County tonight beginning at 6:30. The team’s four seniors — Peyton, Conner, Slayton and Mooney — will be recognized.
“Those are all guys who have been wrestling for a number of years,” Livingston said.
Those seniors provide a solid base for Tilghman as it continues to progress through the season. As for just how far the Tornado can go this year, Livingston’s response is a “We’ll see.”
“You get what you earn, so it’s going to come down to what these guys do in the weight room and in practice,” he said. “You don’t win championships in that championship match; you win it every day in practice. I’m optimistic, but it’s on the guys to put in the work.”