ELKO – There is a new face leading the Elko wrestling team, but not a face that is new to the sport – or even the Indians’ program.
Mitch Overlie, who coached in Fallon for what he said was “15 years,” is now in his first season of attempting to build the Indians into a top-notch program, serving as an assistant under former head coach Kelly Wintermote last year.
Wintermote stepped down at the end of last season, using the year to transition Overlie into the head spot.
“I thought Mote did a great job of getting me plugged into the program and how he had me interact with the kids and get them used to me and my style of coaching,” Overlie said. “You can’t replace a Mote or the Milligan brothers and what they have built here in Elko. You have to kind of do your own thing. I just thank God I have the opportunity to be here.”
Last season, the Indians sent seven wrestlers to the state tournament – crowning three Division 3A North regional champions and two state champions.
Elko graduated each of its state champs – the titles nearly spanning the full spectrum of the weight divisions.
David Burden won the 126-pound class, while Luis Salazar bested all comers in the heavyweight division of 285 pounds – actually wrestling up significantly in weight.
The Indians also graduated Trevor Basaraba, who placed third in the state at 152 pounds.
Of Elko’s seven state qualifiers from last year, only two are back this season.
The Indians will return senior Kevin Villegas, who was the 113-pound state champion as a sophomore.
In 2017, Villegas was crowned the 3A North regional champion at 120 pounds.
In the state tournament, he began with consecutive victories by pin but lost a 14-5 major-decision victory in the state final in his bid to repeat as champion.
Beginning the season, Overlie is unaware of which weight class Villegas will wrestle in, saying he will likely “bump him up to 126.”
Elko’s other returning state qualifier is junior Carl Hansen, who competed at 160 pounds last season.
He finished as the regional runner-up, falling to defending 152-pound state champion Matt Goings of Fallon in the 3A North final.
In the state tournament, Hansen finished with a 1-2 record.
“Hansen has gotten bigger and stronger. He is a tough kid and I could see him winning state this year and next year,” Overlie said. “I would like to see him step up and take on more of a leadership role this season.”
Of Elko’s other state qualifiers, one is injured and the other is not wrestling.
Skyler Brown qualified for state at 170 pounds as a junior but has chosen not to wrestle during his senior year, and 220-pounder Eric Rodriguez suffered a knee injury during football and may miss the entire wrestling season.
“Rodriguez is still hurt. I think it may be an ACL and a meniscus. He says he feels OK until he has to move a bunch laterally, then it gets loose,” Overlie said. “If he has to have surgery, he’ll be out for the year.”
Overlie has high hopes for a handful of wrestlers who did not qualify for state last season.
“I’d like to see (senior) Bryce Howard make it to state. He works hard and has been at it for four years. I think (junior) Landon Dente is a good athlete and could have some success. Luis Garcia (junior) is around 220 pounds. We might be able to get him to 195,” Overlie said. “I like our bigger wrestlers. I think (senior) Byron Hansen, (senior) Ryan Dittes and junior Brock Bennett could all have good years.”
Coach Overlie is also excited about the newcomers to his program in his first year at the helm.
“We have a lot of youth and some talented freshmen. We just have to get better every day,” he said. “I think Zeth Kinterknecht, Lincoln Ratliff and Darin Legrand all have potential if they stick with it.”
Overlie said when the preseason began, he had “40 something kids” but said there are about32 now regularly attending practice.
“I thought the turnover would be less since I worked with the kids last year and that I’m not someone new who was brought in,” he said. “We’ll factor into the mix somewhere. We’re going to fight and battle with the guys we have.”
The Indians first taste of competition that counts comes Friday and Saturday in Fallon.