It's one thing to think you have something special going on and another to know it, and this season the Centralia varsity wrestling team was well aware before things even started that it had the makings of something memorable.
"At the beginning of the year we knew we had the pieces of the puzzle to compete at the highest level," said coach Luke Gramke. "At the end of the year we were wrestling very well."
Because they won 17 of their 22 regular season dual meets, the Panthers were certainly headed in the right direction when they entered the postseason. When the team then finished second at districts and fifth at the class 2 Missouri State High School Athletic Association championship tournament, the fact seniors Jackson Evans at 170 and Sam Hasekamp at 220 won individuals titles capped off a run that won't be easy for this program to repeat.
"There is no replacing the senior group we lost," Gramke said. "Our hope is to have a dedicated offseason and continue to get better at the younger levels."
Also stepping away from Centralia in 2017-18 will be state placers Andre Newbrough at 113, Carter Kinkead at 152 and heavyweight Trey Taft. That opens the door for freshmen like Grafton Littrell at 132, Trevor Bodine at 182 and Austin Dawson at 106 to start blazing a new trail for this program that it hopes will take it right back to statewide contention.
"Our team is focused on being in good positions and outworking opponents," said Gramke. "Throughout the course of the year we saw improvement in both of those areas."
As for the offseason, because Gramke practices what he preaches, he'll be working as an assistant track and field coach for Centralia. That doesn't mean the business of making the Panthers great again on the mat is any less of a priority, though.
"Our kids will stay active and participate in other sports, which ultimately makes them a better athlete," Gramke said. "Over the summer we will focus on getting stronger in the weight room and more confident on the wrestling mat."