Male Athlete of the Week: Hawks’ Sanker ‘feels right’ on mat after weight drop

Keith Sanker

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline wrestling coach Matt Keel says he’s never seen anything like it before.

It’s not uncommon for young high school wrestlers to make significant jumps in weight classes, particularly those in the lighter weights. Rarely does a wrestler drop a handful of weight classes entering his senior season of high school. But that’s what Hawks senior Keith Sanker has done this winter.

Two years ago, Sanker was Skyline’s 220-pound wrestler. Last season, he wrestled a majority of the year at 195 pounds, occasionally bumping up to 220. This winter, Sanker is down to 160 pounds.

Sanker, who had never wrestled below 182 pounds in his high school career, said after practice Monday morning he’s always wanted to drop the weight – “I was not seeing myself being that fat my senior year,” he said – and he began following through by changing up his diet last summer.

“I just felt like I was gonna be more successful cutting weight instead of staying up, because (when) guys weigh a little bit more they’re gonna throw, they’re gonna squeeze,” Sanker said. “Yeah it sounds weird but 160, I feel like that’s my territory. It feels right.”

It hasn’t taken long for Sanker to become comfortable at his new weight class. In Saturday’s Mayhem at Millbrook – his second tournament at 160 pounds this winter – Sanker pinned all four of his opponents en route to winning the 160-pound championship.

For his accomplishment, Sanker has been named The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for Dec. 27-Jan. 2.

Sanker’s success on Saturday began with a second-period pin of Sherando’s Mikeal Neff in his only bout in pool competition. In bracket play, Sanker pinned Dominion’s Jose Nolasco in 26 seconds, then Broadway’s Bret Hankins in 4:03 in the semifinals to advance to the championship bout.

In the final, Sanker erased a 3-1 deficit to Robinson’s Inwoo Yi with a throw 20 seconds into the second period before scoring the pin 28 seconds later to earn the championship medal.

“He’s never been scared of anybody,” Keel said. “I think one of the things that’s helping him get to the top of the podium is he’s wrestling smarter. I’m really proud of him for that. … He used to just cut everybody, which gives people a chance. Now he’s riding. He pinned two people on top and he’s never, ever ridden anybody. … And I think that goes back to being a 195- and 220-pounder when you’re not supposed to be – he would get rolled, he would fall off.”

Keel, who agreed that Sanker is “definitely” a more natural fit at 160 pounds, said there are some techniques Sanker has learned in the upper weights over the last few years that he is allowing the wrestler to retain at his new weight, but Keel added that he and the Hawks’ coaching staff have had to “retrain” Sanker in some aspects.

“Kids are faster down there too and so he’s really had to learn to sprawl,” Keel said. “We’re retraining his brain a little bit – now you’re down to where you belong you need to be riding people. And so he’s starting to do that and it’s opening things up. He’s shooting more, and he didn’t win a lot with his shots but it opens up his upper-body stuff out of that action and keeps the other guy honest.”

Also a starting linebacker for Skyline’s football team, Sanker said he played most of the fall season around 170 pounds after being listed at 185 pounds on the Hawks’ preseason football roster.

“Everybody got after me, ‘why are you cutting so soon? Why are you cutting so soon? You’ve got a month left of football, what are you doing?'” Sanker recalled.

But Sanker, who started the wrestling season at 170 pounds, insists his drop in weight didn’t affect his ability on the football field, a statement certainly backed up by his team-leading 118 tackles, the second-best mark in the local area.

“Football coaches want bigger guys but they want muscle. A lot of guys get confused that way and think its just weight,” Keel said. “He lost 20-some pounds, was (Skyline’s) defensive player of the year. He was in on every tackle. He was moving. … If you’re a football player and you’re at 10-, 15-percent body fat, that’s where you need to be. Your body’s gonna be better. So it really helped him tremendously in football.”

Through Saturday’s matches, Sanker is 18-9 with 15 pins and has his sights set on his first state tournament appearance. His bid for a spot in the Group 3A tournament last season was cut short when he suffered a concussion in the Region 3A East tournament.

“Yeah I wanna win states, but I’ll be very, very happy if I make it to the first round,” Sanker said.

<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or <a href=’mailto:bfauber@nvdaily.com’>bfauber@nvdaily.com</a></p>