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St. Francis' Blanka battles back for state appearance

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

St. Francis High School junior 285-pounder Shakotah Blanka fractured his left hip in a 4-wheeling accident last summer. During football season, Blanka was playing fullback in practice and three teammates hit him at once at different angles, including one who had ahold of his feet. Blanka's right hip broke, and he missed the rest of football and the first part of wrestling. At first, Blanka couldn't even walk on it and required crutches.

"It was kind of tough to come back," Blanka said.

Blanka focused on the end of the year and his first trip to the Class 3-2-1A state tournament. Last week at the WaKeeney-Trego regional, he had a close match before he was pinned late by Montezuma-South Gray's Zach Crick, one of the classification's top wrestlers. Blanka pushed Crick earlier in the year, too.

Then, Blanka won his next match to earn a state berth. Blanka still feels pain every now and then if he uses the hip too much.

"I knew I could make it to state this year," Blanka said. "I just did all the rehab I could."

Blanka finished his season 20-11 when he went 0-2 on Friday and Saturday at state at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"It was good to see him finally qualify," St. Francis coach Dylan Loyd said. "...He missed a lot of the season before Christmas break. I think for him to get here, I think it's something that he can build on confidence-wise."

Blanka lost his first match 4-0 to Sabetha junior Jacob Leuthold and then fell in 2 minutes, 29 seconds by fall to Eureka senior Quade McCoy.

"It makes you feel pretty good," Blanka said of participating. "Try to show how good I can do if I put my mind to it."

The other Indian qualifier, St. Francis sophomore Clay Cassaw, finished 1-2 and completed the season 24-9 at 132 pounds. Cassaw won his first match by fall in 3 minutes, 43 seconds, lost 9-7 in overtime and then fell, 3-2, in the final seconds to Phillipsburg senior Mason Bannister. Bannister was in the bottom position and used a rarely seen hop to earn an escape point. Cassaw had defeated Bannister twice this season.

"It was desperation," Loyd said. "We just weren't ready for it. That one was tough."

This marks the third straight season the Indians haven't won a state medal for one of Kansas' top programs. The Indians also didn't have Lane Hoffman, who qualified for state earlier in his career, but missed last season because of concussion problems and didn't qualify last week in a tough weight class.

"You miss a year at this level, that hurts an awful lot," Loyd said. "That's 30, 40 matches he could have had. It's hard to make up the difference."

St. Francis had at least one state placer every year from 1937-2011, including Loyd, who finished in the top three four times from 2003-06. Loyd and assistant coach Kyle Buffington wore "Creating a Legacy" shirts as they look to bring the St. Francis program back. Blanka and Cassaw will return next season.

"It's exciting to think about what could be, but it just comes down to, kids have got to put in the work," Loyd said. "Do you really want to get to that next level? Do you really want to get to where I feel we should be, like we have been in the past? It takes a group of kids to put in the time. Not just one or two, but you need a consensus."