By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS – Lakin head coach Jim Christiansen still remembers when sisters Isabell and Josiah Ortiz started wrestling more than a decade ago. The Ortiz girls always came to kids’ club wrestling practice because of their older brother, Jonathan. He wrestled with Christiansen’s son, Kayden.
Isabell started at age five, and Josiah came in a short time later. Plus, the Ortiz’s father, Chris Davis, has coached wrestling 10-plus years and serves as the veteran Lakin middle school and high school wrestling coach.
“We decided this is our sport,” Isabell said.
Both have enjoyed having Christiansen and Davis as coaches through the various levels. From Davis, the duo learned wrestling moves, having fun and giving full effort. The tutelage has helped the Ortizs emerge as the top current sister combination in Kansas wrestling. Currently, Isabell is a 115-pound junior, and Josiah a sophomore at 109.
“I enjoy being with the team and just the excitement that comes from it,” Josiah said.
Last winter, both placed at the inaugural KSHSAA sanctioned all-classes girls’ wrestling meet in Salina. Josiah finished 27-6 and took fourth at 101 behind a pair of seniors and 5A Great Bend’s Breckyn Elliott. Isabell went 30-4 and finished third at 109. This year, both are strong favorites for a state title at the Division II state meet this Friday in Salina.
“A step forward for them,” Christiansen said of the Ortiz seasons. “Girls’ wrestling being really new, they did wrestle growing up, but it was all boys, so it was kind of a learning experience for them, and this year, they just kind of took it to another level. So it’s been great to watch for sure.”
Both had qualified as a top-16 wrestler in respective weight classes at the WaKeeney regional on Feb. 13. In all other years, that would yield a berth into the state tournament. However, this season, COVID-19 protocol yielded the sub-state round last Friday and cut the field from 16 to eight for state. Plus, girls’ wrestling split into two classes: Division I (6-5A) and Division II (4-1A).
“It gets a little rough in the practice room,” Christiansen said. “I got to break them up once in awhile, because they are sisters, and I do have a couple boys that I bring in and let them practice with, just to give those two a break from each other, so kind of need that. I don’t want them to carry it from the room to the house and still be mad when they get home, so I’ve got to kind of have a balance there.”
At the Division II West sub-state in Ellis on Friday, Josiah and Wellington sophomore Anna Cullens had the lone match that featured a pair of undefeated wrestlers. In 2020, Cullens beat Isabell, 8-6, in overtime in the regional final. Known for her strength, Cullens was a defending state runner-up. She carried a 53-2 career mark, including 28-0 this season, into the match. Helped by a late takedown, Josiah came back to win 4-2.
“Made me really happy and just surprised,” Josiah said.
She improved to 24-0 and earned the top Ellis sub-state wrestler award. Additionally, Josiah captured a 12-0 victory versus Smoky Valley sophomore Noelle Peters, and a 2-1 semifinals win versus Abilene senior Skyleigh Pflaster. Cullens was ranked first, Pflaster second and Josiah third by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. They were the four state qualifiers from Ellis. Peters stands at 10-6, and Pflaster is 11-2.
“It was kind of hard, because it was like Josiah wrestling herself,” Christiansen said. “If you watch the (Cullens) match, those two wrestled exactly the same, and there’s not really another person that I have in the room that wrestles like Josiah. So as long as Josiah did what she knows how to do – what she’s trained to do – she’s awful good.”
At 115, Isabell took second to Pratt sophomore Jadyn Thompson for the second straight week. Isabell lost, 9-2, and dropped to 26-4. The Broncs’ lone two girls, they helped Lakin finish in ninth out of 36 teams with 40.5 points.
“It’s hard because 90 percent of the time out here, if you get a takedown you are going to win the match,” Christiansen said. “But both girls are getting better and better each week on their feet, and it’s hard for either one to get an advantage.”
She is the lone wrestler to beat Thompson, who stands at 33-1. At districts, Ortiz beat Thompson, 7-2. In the regional final, Thompson won 5-0. Thompson also defeated Ortiz by fall at the Abilene meet on Jan. 15 and decision at Cimarron on Jan. 22.
“Makes me want to work harder and just come out on top,” Isabell said.
The 115 weight class is suddenly wide-open after the Division II East final between Independence junior Alexis Allen and Burlington junior E’owynn Codney. A defending state champion, Allen was 50-0 and ranked first. Codney won by fall in 5:10.
Entering sub-state, the top-four rankings went Allen, Thompson, Ortiz and Codney. Isabell fell, 7-4, to Allen in the state semifinals last winter.
Lakin has had two all-time state wrestling champions: Dalton Davis in 2008 and Hadley Panzer at 285 pounds in 2019. Panzer and Kayden played sports together for many years. Panzer is the only Shrine Bowler in Lakin history and is currently on the Kansas State football team.
Kayden went a combined 50-18 in his last two seasons at Lakin wrestling and cleared 2,000 career rushing yards. He is a starting fullback at Bethel College. The Ortiz girls have long had plenty of support from their family, including Chris, mother Sabrina, and extended family and friends.
“I just really love being with your team and supporting each other,” Josiah said.
Josiah “didn’t really know” what to expect from her first matchup versus Cullens. She fell down 2-0 in the second period and elected to go for the win in the third.
“How I think about it is, if you are already down, then you should try your hardest to get the takedown, because if you lose by more, then you are already down, so you’ve already lost,” Josiah said. “But if you try to keep getting that takedown and you get it, then you are going to end up winning. Just try to come back.”
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