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In-house competition fuels Redbank Valley

| Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

Friendly rivalries might be the key ingredient in the Redbank Valley wrestling team's recipe for success.

The Bulldogs' lineup includes five returning District 9 Class AA placewinners and a few more who came close. Redbank Valley's collection of wrestlers with comparable abilities and aspirations has created a competitive environment.

"I hate to say that expectations are high, but they all know it," said coach Mike Kundick, whose Bulldogs reached the semifinals of the district team tournament last season. "The competitive nature is going to help. Every night, they're pounding on each other. They want to win. ... They're keeping the intensity up."

Senior 132-pounder Garret Hildebrand is out to surpass his junior-year achievements, which included a 23-14 record and a fourth-place finish in District 9.

"I remember how it was when I was a freshman and a sophomore, always looking up to the seniors," Hildebrand said. "I want everyone to look up to me like I looked up to all the other guys and not be a disappointment for anybody. I think everybody has their eye on me, and I definitely want this to be my standout year."

With a few other district placewinners near his weight class on the roster, Hildebrand is certain to find challenges. Junior Ty Haines will wrestle at 138 pounds after a sophomore year in which he took second in District 9 and was 29-8. Junior Cole Shirey, set to wrestle at 160, also placed second in the district last season and went 30-11. And at 120 is sophomore Mitch Blose, who was 23-14 last season.

"We push each other a lot, make each other better," Hildebrand said. "Even when we're just drilling, we take it serious and make sure it's just like a live situation."

When not working with Hildebrand, Haines has found freshman 145-pounder Keshon Truitt to be a suitable second option.

"Keshon, he's a really good friend of mine," Haines said. "He's been doing really well -- even against us better guys -- and that's really surprised me a lot."

Shirey often works with 170-pounder Brandon Bailey, who went 18-10 and fell a win short of placing in District 9 last season.

"We have completely different styles of wrestling," Shirey said. "He's a shorter guy and I'm a taller guy, and we're just mixing styles a lot. There are so many different looks that different kids in the room are giving us, so when it comes time for a match, we'll be prepared for anything."

Blose was another wrestler who needed just one more win to place at last season's district tournament. His classmate, 113-pounder Willis Gruver, can help him make the necessary improvements; Gruver finished third in District 9 and had a 30-11 record last season.

Kundick awaits the end of hunting season and the passing of the holidays so he can determine the status of a few more wrestlers, including senior Braden Bowser, who was fourth in the district at 215 last season. But some of the new additions -- Truitt and fellow freshmen Kolbin Altobelli (103), Luke Gallo (126) and Cal Haines (220) -- have given Kundick reasons to relax a bit.

"They're all four learning a lot from these older guys," Kundick said. "The room is really competitive."

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