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Valley Center’s Blair gets familiar motivation

Published Feb. 22 at 11:09 p.m. | Last updated Nov. 20 at 3:48 p.m.

Valley Center senior Chad Blair dominated the practice room during the first month of the season. An experienced senior with more than 60 wins combined as a sophomore and junior, he didn’t lose at practice.

The Hornets added a new assistant coach in December, though, and while Blair advanced to Saturday’s Class 5A semifinals with a 45-2 record, he hasn’t won a point in practice since.

The assistant? Blair’s brother, Cade, a three-time Class 5A champion while at Valley Center. He had wrestled at Old Dominion before suffering nerve damage following an elbow injury.

Both Cade Blair and Valley Center coach Brian Shelton smiled slightly as they commented on Cade Blair’s dominance over his brother.

Even Chad Blair dropped his head and smiled at the mention.

“Having someone with 2 ½ years of (Division I) experience and being my brother is nice,” Blair said. “I work with him every day, and yeah, I get the crap beat out of me.”

Cade Blair has seen a difference in his brother, who failed to win a quarterfinal match the past two seasons.

“When he was little and I was trying to push him, he didn’t want to work as much,” Cade Blair said. “When I left, he decided to step up and work harder. Now I’m back and he’s done nothing but work. This is the hardest I’ve seen him work. He’s motivated.”

Chad Blair’s disappointment in the past two seasons has sparked an intense drive. He knows he could have been competing for 5A titles the past two years.

Now he relishes the time with his brother on the mat and watching video. Already close-knit, the return of Cade Blair has tightened that bond.

“He’s improved me more than I think he ever thought he could,” Chad Blair said. “He drives me to be the best I can. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

“If you’re just winning, winning and winning, you’re not really getting any better. Someone comes in and puts your face in the mat every day, it keeps you working. That’s just motivation.”

The past week in the practice room was tougher, though.

“You can tell he wants to win this week,” Cade Blair said. “Usually I can take it a little easy and step back and work on his mistakes. But this week, I had to wrestle him.”

And while Chad Blair refuses to jump ahead and think of a 5A title, Shelton believes it can be done.

“I would put my money on Chad in this tournament, if his mind is right and mentally he’s ready to wrestle. Physically and technical-wise, he’s as good as anybody,” Shelton said.

“That’s because of his brother, not me.”

Match to watch – When the Class 5A pairings came out last Sunday, Andover Central coach Chris Saferite immediately saw a possible quarterfinal matchup between two 106-pound freshmen – Andover Central’s Dakota Rodd and St. James Academy’s Stephen Tujague.

Tujague was ranked second at 106, Rodd sixth.

“We were eye-balling it all week,” said Saferite, who noted that Tujague had beaten Ark City’s Logan Terrill, No. 1 at 106. “We were looking forward to the match, and we took advantage of it.”

Rodd beat Tujague 5-3.

Tujague got a quick takedown, but then Rodd answered by getting him on his back, nearly pinning him. With the score tied at 3-all, Rodd got the winning takedown.

“He got an escape to tie it, and we needed a takedown to win. It took him about 10 seconds,” Saferite said.

First-time placer – West junior Marcus Phillips doesn’t believe he’s been wrestling his best, but he won his first two matches at 120 pounds to advance to Saturday’s semifinal.

“I wrestled all right, but I don’t feel like I’ve been giving it my all,” Phillips said. “But I’m winning. I just have to keep pushing through.”

Phillips qualified for state the past two seasons, but he failed to advance past that.

His 4-2 win over Jake Elbrader, who was ranked fourth, was a confidence boost for Phillips, who will face three-time champ Zac Gentzler from Andover Central.

“I set up everything, waited for him to step and then hit the final move in overtime,” Phillips said. “It means a lot to advance to the next day, but I need to keep pushing and hopefully come out with a medal.”

Defending champs still alive – Andover Central senior Zac Gentzler, a three-time champ, advanced to the semifinals.

Great Bend’s Chris Burley (126 pounds), also advanced, as did Topeka Seaman’s Bryant Guillen (170).

Other defending champs advancing include Ark City’s Joey Defore (113), Goddard’s Dakota Leach (120), Hays’ Preston Weigel (195), Shawnee Heights’ Nick Meck (182), Newton’s Dillon Archer (195) and Leavenworth’s Nathan Butler (285).

Scary moment – Salina Central’s Dayton Will was taken to Via Christi St. Francis when he was injured during his quarterfinal match.

St. Thomas Aquinas sophomore Isaac Dulgarian, a returning champ, was disqualified from the match.

According to Salina Central athletic director Greg Maring, Will was moving his extremities and talking while at the hospital.

State wrestling championships

Where: 6A, 5A at Hartman Arena, Park City; 4A at Bicentennial Center, Salina; 3-2-1A at Gross Coliseum, Hays

Tickets: $10 adults, $7 students

Saturday: Semifinals, 9 a.m.; championship, third-place and fifth-place matches, 2:30 p.m.