(KMAland) -- Right around the turn of the century, Lewie Curtis was busy building one of the most powerful wrestling programs in the state.
In this year’s KMA Sports Hall of Fame class, we honor two of Coach Curtis’ teams – the 1999 and 2000 state champions from Underwood.
“I think the thing that comes to mind (about those teams) was the attitude this whole team had about the team and their teammates,” Coach Curtis told KMA Sports. “We had some headline-grabbers with state champions, but we had an entire group of kids that were all in for each other.”
The Eagles, which also made a pair of state dual tournament appearances those two seasons, actually set the stage for their back-to-back titles in 1998.
“We took seventh place (in ’98),” Curtis said. “There wasn’t a lot of fanfare about getting seventh place, but as we looked at the tournament itself, we had probably three or four losses in that tournament that were one-point or overtime losses. We felt had we won those matches we’d have been right there in the first or second place discussion.”
Curtis says that’s when the team and the program as a whole really started to believe they could contend for team championships.
“We just had to be better at the end of matches,” he added. “Better at winning in spots where we had a chance, and that’s what we were able to do later on.”
The Eagles won their first state championship in 1999, scoring 97 points in the process. Blu Wahle won his second individual championship at 160 pounds while Joe Durick wrestled to the 140 pound title.
“(Blu) was the name recognition right off the bat,” Curtis said. “Just within the practice room, he took our team to a higher level with what was expected when you stepped on the mat. He had a profound impact on the team and the teams to come.”
Keith Clausen added a runner-up finish, and Mark Lander rebounded from losing in the first round to win his final five matches and place third.
Following the graduation of Wahle and other standout leaders, the Eagles did it again in 2000. This time they scored 111.5 points, and Clausen (at 160 pounds) and Lander (275 pounds) finished the deal with state individual titles of their own.
“We had a good nucleus (in 2000) with some good young kids coming up,” Curtis said. “The thing I remember about that tournament is we had four kids that took third place.”
Those four third-place finishers were Dan Davila (103 pounds), Joe Durick (145 pounds), Cody Koenig (152 pounds) and Jesse Simons (135 pounds).
“Those four all went in on Saturday after having lost either in a quarterfinal or a semifinal match, and they were all kids that were state championship caliber,” Curtis said. “They came back and won eight matches between the four of them, and some of them were close one or two-pointers, overtime matches. There were others that just dominated. I remember we went from being in a close race to having clinched the team title before we ever put our two (finalists) on the mat that night.”
There were plenty of great Underwood wrestling teams since then (the 2001 team was second while the 2002, 2017 and 2019 teams placed fourth), but the 1999 and 2000 squads were the only state champions in school history. We’re excited to recognize them in this year’s KMA Sports Hall of Fame class.
Listen to the complete interview with Coach Curtis below.
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