The Leavenworth Pioneers wrestling team will kick off their season Saturday at the Leavenworth Challenger.

This year’s team will have a new head coach as Matt Long takes over. Long is a familiar face however as he spent the previous 17 seasons as an assistant.

Long said practices have been going well in his first year at the helm. 

“We have had good practices,” Long said. “We have been working on a lot of technique. Since this is my first year as a head coach, I wanted to get back to the basics with all the wrestlers.”

The team currently has 22 wrestlers with six seniors and five returners. Long said the numbers are lower than usual, but it is a good core group. 

“We are a pretty young team,” Long said. “So we are going to take our lumps but I’m confident that we will improve throughout the season.”

Long was asked who some of the key wrestlers will be. He mentioned Hartwell Taylor, who is a returning state medalist and a team captain. Chase Allen is a returning state qualifier and also a team captain. Long also said Jacob McClain, Tyler Robinson and Julien Bell are wrestlers “to watch out for.”

With wrestling being a physically and mentally draining sport, Long said he and the assistants split up the season into sections and to alter practices during the season to help with the grind.

“Wrestling is very taxing on the body,” Long said. “The first thing we do is break the season up into three stages. (First) being Lee’s Summit Holiday Invitational. The second is the Newton Tournament of Champions and the third, of course, is state. As far as practice goes, you have to change a practice, keep it fun and exciting. You still have to make practice rough so the kids can fight through a tough match when it comes because no matter how good of a wrestler you are you will always have a match that will push your limitations.”

Along with the Pioneers having a new head coach, the team will also see change in the new United Kansas Conference. Long said the team should do well in the conference. 

“We should do well in the new conference,” Long said. “It is a small conference right now. We are hoping the conference will grow. We were in the Sunflower League, one of the toughest leagues in the area.”

Long said the Lee’s Summit and Newton meets are two of the three he is looking forward to the most. The other is the Leavenworth Challenger this weekend.