Make the finals.
That was Polson wrestler Kedrick Baker’s main goal for this season. He said as a senior he had never been to the finals at a divisional event before and making that a goal fueled his fire.
This past weekend at the Western A Divisional Tournament in Ronan he did make it to the 126-pound weight class final round, but couldn’t overcome his opponent.
“I felt great, felt good to make it to the finals,” Baker said. “It could have went better in the finals, I wrestled Jake Bibler.”
Bibler, out of Frenchtown, is no stranger to Baker. The two seniors have wrestled each other their entire high school careers. Bibler is a three-time state champion, and a tough draw for Baker.
“I kind of wasn’t going into the finals with the right mindset I guess,” Baker said. “Got in my own head, struggled a little bit there.”
He said his coaches instructed him to brush it off and focus on preparing for state. He just might get another shot at Bibler on the big stage.
“I’ll give him another rundown at state,” Baker added.
Baker’s senior wrestling season got off to a rough start after he took fifth in the Owen Invitational, Polson’s opening tournament of the season. He also injured his shoulder. It was not the start he wanted.
He sat out the next tournament due to the injury, but returned the following week just in time for home duals. He said wrestling in front of his home crowd of Pirates was a “pretty impressive” feeling.
As the season wore on Baker just developed more skill with each practice and meet according to one of Polson’s coaches Matt Owen.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen out of Kedrick is improvement on his work ethic,” Owen said. “Especially this season, he’s coming into the room everyday with a good attitude and wanting to improve, wanting to work hard.
“He’s buying into the techniques that we’ve been working on in practice and he’s kind of perfecting that,” Owen continued. “That’s why he’s having the success he’s having on the mat.”
In fact it is not only Baker’s coachable attitude that has changed this season, he is a true leader for Pirate wrestlers.
“The big thing for us is leadership in the room,” Owen said. “He’s always setting a good tone by getting out there and working extremely hard.”
Baker’s take on team leadership was simple though, and he derived it from past Pirate seniors that he looked up to as a young kid new to the squad.
“Just trying to take the pressure of being the leader and turn it into positivity,” Baker said.
Talk about leading, Baker’s impressive 36-9 record this season speaks for itself. He also tops his entire team in nearly every statistic category, including a whopping 214 total match points.
Owen said the Polson coaching staff has really enjoyed having him on the team. With his uplifting personality and aggressive wrestling style, Baker has been a great asset to Polson wrestling.
“He has a great sense of humor, he’s a fun kid to be around,” Owen said. “He’s got a great forward gear going all the time, isn’t afraid to pull the trigger when he needs to.”
Wrestling is a huge part of Baker’s life, and has been since he was three years old when his stepfather introduced him to the sport. But Baker said he also truly enjoys where he lives by venturing to the outdoors, from hot springs to ice fishing to swimming.
He also explained as far as his personal life goes, staying in school and doing well in his classes has always been a goal for him. With the tough mentality developed through wrestling, Baker’s future looks bright.
“(Wrestling) definitely teaches you a lot of self discipline that is for sure,” Baker said. “It teaches you to push through a lot of things you don’t think you’d normally get through.”
Baker will have to push through one more weekend of high school wrestling as he hopes to improve on his fifth place finish in state last year. Owen said his coaches have high expectations for him to succeed.
“I think he’s setting himself up for a good finish,” Owen added.
In addition to improving on his state placement last year, Baker also said it might be a good chance to prove his worth to any college scouts that might be lurking in the crowd.
“I guess a goal out of wrestling which comes down to the end of season, is to maybe get a college to look at me during state and realize I’m a kid worth having on a college wrestling team,” he said.
Although he came up short in the last match at divisionals, he is not allowing that letdown to stand in his way heading to state championships tomorrow. In fact through his preparation this past week, he seems to be feeling pretty confident.
“Oh yes of course, there’s no way I’m not doing any better than third or fourth place, so that’s the goal,” Baker said.
Reporter Whitney England may be reached at 758-4419 or firstname.lastname@example.org