Carson wrestler takes it to the ‘Banko’
Appeal Sports Writer
Most wrestlers would be happy to place third in the regionals and go on to compete at state as a sophomore, but don’t count Carson’s Kyle Banko among them.
Although his 2004-05 season was solid by any standards and a big improvement from his freshman year (“I was 23-20 as a freshman. It was horrible,” Banko said.), it wasn’t the kind of dramatic transformation he wanted to see.
While not talking a Bruce-Banner-into-the-Incredible-Hulk type of metamorphosis, Banko nonetheless had witnessed someone make the kind of mutation he’d like to replicate himself.
“I played (junior varsity) football and I was kinda good, but I didn’t lift a day in my life,” said the 17-year-old Banko, who is now also a member of the Senators varsity football squad. “Then I saw (teammate) Bryan Maffei playing varsity. He was like me and never lifted. Then (after he did) he was this huge, fast animal on the football field. I started lifting over (last summer). I wanted to be a regular kid who’d go to animal.”
THE TURNING POINT
In addition to hitting the weight pile, Banko hooked up with Damonte Ranch wrestling coach Kevin Carter and trained with some of the Mustangs before heading to a one-week team camp in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“I loved it,” Banko said. “I was with a different team. I became friends with all the kids. It was good to go and hang out and wrestle for a week.”
But the camp wasn’t exactly Club Med. Banko wrestled 20 matches (going 17-3), competing in four dual meets a day. He aso placed second in a “big tournament” to end the camp.
“I thought, If I can get second here, why not do it somewhere else?” Banko said of his growing confidence. “I worked out hard and in my mind I said, ‘Step your game up. Go out there and do it.’ Arizona in the middle of summer…That was the turning point.”
GRIDIRON PIT STOP
Pumping iron soon pumped up the 130-pound Banko, who beefed up to between 140-145 pounds for the 2005 football season, in which Carson finished 4-6 and just missed the playoffs. And while his weight was good for speed in his position of running back, it had its liabilities in his other position of outside linebacker.
“He got laid out a few times, but he gets right back up and keeps playing,” said Travis Lamborn, Banko’s friend and football and wrestling teammate. “In football he does what he can and never gives up. He plays with what he’s got and is pretty quick on the field.”
Sure Banko took some good licks while trying to dish out his own, but it wasn’t enough to shake his pit bull mentality. He gave as good as he got.
“I like to fly around at 110 miles an hour,” Banko said. “I love all contact sports. Being small and laying kids out – I love it. I’m not afraid at all.”
In addition to paintballing with Lamborn (“I got him whipped in that one,” said Lamborn, who turned the “laid-back, chilled” Banko on to the game), Banko also likes to bring his reckless abandon to wakeboarding and skateboarding.
And for those who don’t think skateboarding is a contact sport, remember that concrete and asphalt aren’t much fun to land on – unless you’re Banko.
“My best (skateboarding) move is the crash,” he said with a chuckle.
NEW AND IMPROVED
With the football season behind him, Banko (who also wrestles with the Carson Bulldogs club team) turned his attention back to the mat, where he began working with his third coach, Casey Schweitzer, in as many years for the Senators.
“His (coaching) style is completely different,” Banko said of Schweitzer. “He has an intense, in-your-face wrestling (approach).”
Which suits Banko just fine.
“I like to go out and try my moves and do everything 110 percent,” Banko said.
And the student has impressed the teacher as well.
“He put in a lot of work over the summer. He really worked to improve,” Schweitzer said. “Playing varsity football, he’s a hard-nosed kid. He has very solid (wrestling) technique. He’s very strong at 130 pounds – that’s one of his key traits.”
Another has been his progression as a wrestler.
“He’s improved every week since we started in November,” Schweitzer said. “He gets more confident each week.”
Banko started off the season 16-0 before entering the prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions , on Dec. 19. But there’s a reason the TOC is called “the toughest tournament in the United States” by its organizers and competitors.
“He didn’t place and finished 3-2,” Schweitzer said. “He was a little disgusted, frustrated with his performance. He thought he could place.”
Banko and Schweitzer said this led to a little talk between wrestler and coach.
“After I lost at the TOC, we went up in the stands,” Banko said. “(Schweitzer) told me, ‘You’re so much better than this.’ He told me what to do. He said I was holding back. We watched some film and I found out I was holding back.”
But not for much longer.
The Sierra Nevada Classic wrestling tournament followed hot on the heels of the TOC and with 95 teams and a 64-man bracket, the event is quite imposing. No Carson wrestler had won a championship there since heavyweight Chuck Guptill in 1986.
“He wrestled more aggressively than at any other time,” Scweitzer said of Banko. “He put his strengths together and stayed on the attack from the first whistle.”
One by one Banko’s opponents fell and he began to feel like he had a shot at winning it all.
“(Teammate) Robbie Bozin and I were talking a lot – ‘Win one more match,'” Banko said of the pair’s drive to the finals. “He lost in the semifinals, I won in the semis. He kept pushing me, pushing me. He said, ‘You (stink) if you don’t win.'”
Well, to put it mildly, Banko didn’t stink, and he ended up in the finals with Matt Kloetzer, of the Burns, Ore., team.
“I wanted a faster pace,” Banko said of his approach. “I wanted to put him on the defensive. I wanted to be on top because he was a big leg-rider and I didn’t want to give him any easy points.”
Which he didn’t – at least early on.
“Banko dominated the match, but he shut down sooner than I would’ve liked,” said Scweitzer, who didn’t recall the exact score (Lamborn said it was 7-5). “The guy (Kloetzer) came back in the third (period). Kyle was wrestling not to lose. He’s got to wrestle to win. But (Banko) dominated the match until the third.”
And he also took home the 130-pound championship.
With a 31-3 record heading into Saturday’s tournament in Albany, Calif., Banko seems to have shifted into overdrive.
“He’s had an outstanding year,” Lamborn said of Banko. “That’s great for him. This year he can definitely place (at state) if not win. He’s looking pretty good.”
Todd Banko, Kyle’s 15-year-old brother (who’s 27-14 as a 112 pounder for the varsity team) has also seen a marked improvement in the older Banko.
“He works harder than anybody on the team, I can tell you that,” Todd Banko said. “He takes (wrestling) a lot more seriously. Last year it was like, whatever. This year he knows he can win. He’s a lot more confident. He doesn’t second-guess himself. He’s quicker, faster.”
He’s also not likely to leave anything to chance. Last year he made Todd wear a mask when he was sick and Kyle was preparing for zone.
“(The SNC championship) boosted my confidence a lot,” Kyle Banko said. “But still, anybody can be beaten on a given day. I don’t want to get too big a head and lose a stupid match.”
Banko credited several people for his success, including Bob McDonald (who runs the Bulldogs’ “Pound” and lets the Senators train in the larger facilities), his teammates and his parents, Pam and Craig Banko.
Asked of his ultimate aspiration, Banko (who said he gets As and Bs in school) said he wants to wrestle at any college that will take him. But there’s still some unfinished wor k to do as a junior.
“(Win) the state championship, no doubt about,” Banko said of his aspiration. “I want to wrestle good and take first.”
Just happy to be here? Not this Banko.