Klein Collins wrestlers prep for UIL meets
Kenny Rucker is entering his 16th year as head wrestling coach at Klein Collins, overall he’s been coaching for almost 30 years.
Rucker isn’t just an ordinary wrestling coach, but a very accomplished one. He’s an Illinois High School state champion, a former U.S. National competitor, was voted state of Idaho Male Athlete of the Year and is a two-time NJCAA National champion.
He’s been inducted into several hall of fames including the Texas Wrestling Coaches Hall of Honor, Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame, NJCAA Hall of Fame and North Idaho Athletics Hall of Fame.
Before coming to Klein Collins, Rucker was a former assistant coach at Montana State Northern and North Idaho College.
The Klein Collins wrestling team has produced numerous district and regional champions and two state champions.
“We’ve had our ups and downs just like every other team,” Rucker said. “We’ve had good groups of kids come through, so it’s been good for me.”
Rucker has his biggest senior class ever this year. He returns all his girls but is graduating quite a few senior boys, trying move forward in a rebuilding phase.
Last year’s key graduating wrestlers featured Layton Stephens, Zack Skinner and Christian Stavig.
“Those kids were our seniors that really stepped up for us,” Rucker. “They helped mold our program from what we got right now.”
Key returning seniors feature Isaac Barron, who also plays football, Bryce Dockins and Chris Rodriguez.
The rest of the seniors include Tellez Kevin, Camaron Jenkins, Kane Phillips, Mason Zuleger, Omar Harewood and Case Webb.
Underclassmen include junior Timothy Coleman, Robert Heinz, Michael Mason and sophomore Deandre Rucker.
“As a coach you expect your seniors to step up and help lead those younger guys,” Rucker said. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s what you expect them to do. We push those guys to help mold those young kids and get them prepared for what they do during the season.”
Key girl wrestlers are Alexis Saldavar, Lavoxkeia Carnes, Jesmin Garado, Ashley Tindall and Alyssa LeRoy.
District 9-6A features Klein, Klein Forest, Klein Oak, Conroe, Oak Ridge, The Woodlands, Woodlands College Park, Atascocita, Kingwood and Summer Creek.
“Klein is tough, they’re going to be hard to beat,” Rucker said. “College Park has definitely stepped it up this year, it’s always good wrestle them because they’re a competitive team. Those two teams heading into the district tournament are going to be tough to beat.”
Both the boys and girls placed third in district last year, something coach Rucker hopes to repeat, if not better.
“We’re trying to get a full lineup, each weight class filled on both the boys and girls team and it’s going to take total dedication,” Rucker said. “Those guys are going to have to pull together and work hard as a unit in order to make that happen.”
Dockins recently placed 7th place in the 16th annual Cy-Fair Invitational at the Berry Center. It’s the largest varsity invitational across the nation, hosting 80 boys’ and 80 girls’ teams from programs throughout Texas.
“It’s a huge part because you can gage yourself for the regional tournament,” Rucker said. “You do well here, you should do well at the state tournament.”
The invitational serves as a preview for the UIL Wrestling State Tournament, which is set to take place Feb. 23-24 at the Berry Center, for the third straight year.
Tim Ray, Cy Ridge wrestling coach and tournament director, made the invitational a reality in 2002, which started at Cy Ridge High School.
The invitational has grown from 20 teams the very first year to 160 teams 16 years later, going from eight mats to 16.
Every boys’ and girls’ weight class featured multiple participants currently in the top-10 rankings in the state.
Wrestlers who placed in the top eight have a really good shot of making it to the state tournament.
Klein was the only Klein ISD team in the top 5 for boys’ team scores, placing third with 161 points. Klein Collins placed 57th with 40 points while Klein placed 38th with 59 points and Klein Forest 71st with 21 points.
“If you placed high that’s a good thing,” Rucker said. “Some things might change, people are still going to be moving weight classes and stuff. It’s a good gage to measure things, but as far as district tournament, anything can happen between now and then.”
Rockwall placed first with 233.5 points followed by Rockwall-Heath (166.5), Katy (160) and Cinco Ranch (152.5).
In the girls’ team scores, Klein Collins finished higher than any other Klein school placing 21st with 64 points. Klein placed 53rd with 28 points and Klein Oak and Klein Forest tied for 62nd with 13 points.
Keller Timber Creek took first place with 184 points followed by Cy Ranch (156.5), Morton Ranch (142), Cibolo Steel (135) and Weatherford (128).
The Tigers’ girls and boys wrestling teams also traveled to Cy Falls High School last December to participate in the Cy-Falls Brawl at the Falls Quad Tournament. Both teams showed strong performances with the girls placing fourth while the boys took home the top prize.
Rucker and his teams are currently preparing for the big meet next month, the UIL District 9-6A Championship at Klein Oak High School.
“Right now just getting the kids to step up and correct the small mistakes they make,” Rucker said. “They’re not making very big mistakes. Just little things that’s costing us matches and getting everybody into the correct weight class on both boys and girls side. So those are the main things that I think we need to work on as far as heading towards the district tournament.”
After that comes the UIL Region 3-6A Championship Feb. 16-17 followed by the UIL State Championship Feb. 23.
“That would be ecstatic,” Rucker said.
“It’s not about me anymore, it’s mainly about these kids. A lot of people don’t realize how tough this sport is. Just seeing them on that podium makes me happy. I just want to see them accomplish their goals and keep us moving forward.”