Former Ottawa Mat Masters coach Matt Parenti compared the sport of wrestling to bull riding.

“Most would say bull riding is the toughest eight seconds on earth; and that competitive collegiate-style wrestling is by far and away the toughest six minutes on earth,” he said.

Those high school athletes competing at the 4A Kansas State Wrestling Tournament at the Bicentennial Center in Salina this weekend are finding out quickly how tough and competitive the sport can be. Ottawa High School boasts three qualifiers for the tournament in seniors Dalton Weidl (195 pounds) and Caleb Parenti (170 pounds), as well as freshman Drew Nutt (120 pounds).

“[They’ve been wrestling since they were] 5, 6 years old,” Matt Parenti, who was present at the tournament Friday, said. “They’ve been out there a long time. I’ve coached all three of them for years. They are all very competitive and very good wrestlers in their own right. Now, when they are up here at state, they are wrestling against other kids who have similar pedigrees. It is very competitive up here. They are wrestling at a very high, competitive spot up here and they are prepared and doing well.”

The tournament began Friday and concludes today with the consolation finals scheduled for 3 p.m. The three Cyclone wrestlers are competing amongst the 16 best wrestlers from the state in their respective weight groups in a bracket-style tournament. Parenti, who is Caleb’s father, described the competition at the state level as a “dogfight.”

“It is very rewarding that they made it to state because that is kind of an honor in itself,” he said. “That is quite an accomplishment. Now, getting on the podium is a different accomplishment entirely. They’ve been wrestling for many years just to get here and now they have to take it up another notch. It becomes a real dogfight wrestling up here.”

Weidl (37-3) took down his first two state opponents in D.J. Kessler (22-10) of Independence, and Diego Maravalla (34-10) of Ulysses to advance to the semifinals where he will meet Wellington’s Taylor Lamkin (34-5). Caleb Parenti (29-12) fell in the opening round to undefeated Austin Cook (42-0) of Smokey Valley, but bounced back against Wellington senior Chance Hain (19-13) to move on to the next consolation round. Nutt (20-17) lost in the first round to Augusta’s Nathan Moore (26-13) and in the consolation round to Goodland’s Aaron Aviear (36-9).

Despite the losses, Nutt still made his first high school state tournament appearance Friday, and continues to impress as a freshman, Parenti said. Nutt started out like most freshmen do, which is like a “deer in the headlights,” Parenti said, but has now grown into an athlete wrestling with some of the top dogs from surrounding schools.

“For a freshman to even qualify for state is just a huge accomplishment,” Parenti said. “It puts him in line to be one of the first, at least in [Ottawa High School] history, to be a four-time state qualifier. There are a lot of seniors and juniors at the [120-pound] classification, and he and [fellow freshman] Blaine Ray are hanging with them. Drew is one of the freshman class’ outstanding wrestlers along with [Ray]. Both have an incredible pedigree of years wrestling and will become even greater as they develop in the high school system.”

The two come from a very young team where nine of the starters on the team’s 14 weight classes are freshmen and sophomores. Senior leadership from Weidl and Caleb Parenti has been huge this year, he said.

“With the leadership Caleb and Dalton have shown them, they are going to be a team to reckon with,” Parenti said “We could be watching more than three of them up here in the years to come. The older boys have really done a top notch job on that. Brandin Bell is another senior, and with their constant help and supervision of the many young wrestlers on the team and with the class coming up from the eighth grade who also have some incredible talent, the future of wrestling in our community is as strong as it has ever been.”

And the community has embraced that success, he said. Ottawa saw a large amount of support during regionals, and several families, even those without sons competing, made the trip to Salina this weekend to cheer on the Cyclones at state, Parenti said.

“Regionals was really neat because we saw more people there than we’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “Up here [at state], there are a lot of people who don’t have a son wrestling, and it is quite a trip for them. I think that community support is going to continue to grow.”

Even Kevin Andres, Ottawa University wrestling coach, was seen at the state tournament Friday, Parenti said. Andres coaches the men’s team and is starting up a women’s wrestling team at the university, which will be one of just 25 women’s wrestling programs in the nation, Parenti said.

“[Andres has] been up here and he’s watching our boys and still recruiting,” he said. “I think it means a lot for the community to see that support up here and developing wrestling like its never been developed before.”

All in all, Parenti is still focused on the final rounds of the tournament today and hopes Ottawa will bring home some medals, he said.

“These boys have been injured, humiliated, have cried, bled and have shed hundreds of pounds through the years to stand where they do at this moment, this weekend, to compete with the top 16 wrestlers in their respective weight classes,” he said.