Ethan Kyle admitted he’s still not 100 percent sure what being a high school wrestling coach will entail.
But it’s understandable when he was making his transition from college coaching to being a prep coach in the middle of a pandemic – which led to multiple duals being canceled during his first year as head coach at Stillwater High.
“Obviously, it was a very abnormal year, so I don’t know that my understanding of how things kind of went is going to generalize once we’re back to normal here with regular school and regular travel,” Kyle said. “So the jury’s still out on what the actual transition is going to look and feel like, but thankfully, from a competitive standpoint it went well.”
While he may still have some things to learn once there is a complete return to normalcy, he has one of the most important thing down – winning.
The News Press All-Area Wrestling Coach of the Year took the Pioneers to a Class 6A state championship this past season – the second for the program in the past seven years.
Obviously, Kyle got plenty of help in becoming the top team in the state in his first season.
First, there was the group of wrestlers that pushed the Pioneers to a nearly 20-point win over the field at the state tournament.
Stillwater boasted 12 state qualifiers – of the 14 weights – with nine of those wrestlers finishing on the podium, including six individual state champions.
Underclassmen Sam Smith (106) Cael Hughes (120) and JJ McComas (126) anchored the lower weights with state championships, with McComas being the biggest surprise – going from a fourth-place at the regional tournament and having to win a wrestle-in match to winning the 126-pound title.
Seniors Carter Young (138) and Teague Travis (145) – who have signed with Division I programs Northwestern and Oklahoma State, respectively – combined for five bonus-point victories (led by Young with two falls) on their way to state titles. Junior Anthony Ferrari won the title at 160 pounds with two pins along his path – including one in the championship match.
“It’s easy when I had an outstanding group of wrestlers,” Kyle said. “… I’m thinking there were six or maybe even seven kids that will ultimately wrestle in Division I on that team. So that obviously is far outside the norm for a high school team, especially a public high school in a midsize town in Central Oklahoma. It was enjoyable.”
The first-year Stillwater coach also had the help of a coaching staff that has been a part of the program for years.
Among those serving as assistants include former Oklahoma State wrestlers Cody Stites – who was teammates with Kyle at OSU – and Jodi Wilson, along with Jeremy Hughes – father of Cael, and Dax Hughes, who was also a state qualifier.
“That’s probably the biggest factor. Obviously the talent of the individuals in one thing, but having that much consistency within the program was huge,” Kyle said. “Those guys have it all, the moves of high school wrestling and being able to kind of translate and interpret some things for me on the fly was really helpful.”
But now, with a mix of graduating medalists and returning talent, Kyle will have the task of completing his adjustment to the high school level – hopefully in a post-pandemic world – to lead Stillwater High to a repeat as state champions for the first time since 1969-70.
“We lose four state medalists – two champions – in the senior class, a couple with 300 or 400 wins, so they’re not easily replaced by any means,” Kyle said. “So the next team is going to have to earn their position. … But we expect to be competing towards the top of the division year in, year out. We’re happy to carry that pressure, if you will, and we’re ready to get to work in the next year already.”