Zack Soule said he had mixed feelings as he went about his day last Dec. 11.

"I felt weird that day," the William Chrisman sophomore said, "like something good might happen, but also something bad might happen."

That evening, Soule won his wrestling match at 195 pounds during the Bears’ dual at North Kansas City. "It was maybe my best match of the year," he said, recalling that day.

But unfortunately, Soule had been right with both his feelings – his father, Joseph Soule, died after battling cancer for nearly 1 1/2 years.

"On the way home from the meet, I got the call," Soule said. "I’m glad I wasn’t there; I didn’t need to see that. I’m happy he’s in a better place, but it would be great if he was still here.

"I had a feeling it was coming, but I put it off for a long time."

Soule said he only told a couple teammates that night, including his cousin and Joseph’s nephew, Hunter Soule, also a sophomore. Chrisman wrestling coach Mick Cronk, aware of Joseph’s illness, got the news via phone call from a parent while he was driving home from school that night.

"You look at the timeline, it was about the time Zack was wrestling," Cronk said of Joseph’s death. "He was a good guy, a real big supporter of Zack."

Zack said he has to block out thoughts of his father while wrestling, lest they distract him from the task at hand. But the whole experience has changed his perspective and given him more internal drive on the mats.

"If you want things in this world, you’ve got to go out and take it," he said his father taught him. "Nobody’s going to give you anything. That’s how I look at things now. I see things a lot differently now. I want it more."

With that motivation, and aided by against teammate Josh Wallace, who sports a 40-3 record with 33 pins – "He’s probably one of the best guys to work with," Zack said – Zack has fashioned a 22-11 record heading into this weekend’s district wrestling tournament at Blue Springs South.

"You never quite know," Cronk said about how he thought Zack would handle his father’s death. "Zack is extremely lucky that he has such a great family – grandparents, uncles, cousins. Us, a wrestling family, we’re there for him, but he also his family.

"Those first few matches right afterwards were tough for him. It was great to see him go out and compete; I think it was a release. I’m proud of the way he dealt with the situation. I’m proud of the way he competed. He’s done a lot of growing up."

Zack and Hunter agreed that having the shared experience and being on the same team helped the coping process. The two of them, Hunter said, have grown up more like brothers than cousins.

"We’ve gotten each other through a lot," he said.

"His dad always taught us to be tough," added Hunter, who wrestled last season at St. Mary’s High School before it closed and has an 18-9 record at 220 pounds. "The way we were raised, you’ve got to be tough and you can’t cry about anything.

"I knew it was coming up for a while, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen right then."

"(Hunter) wanted to make sure I was OK," Zack said, adding that having a close relative on the same team "gives you somebody to turn to.

"It helped having friends. It was a distraction, not thinking about it way too much. It gives you a motivation, a bond to keep."

Cronk said he’s seen an improved Zack Soule since December, one with a legitimate chance to compete at the state tournament if he can get through district this weekend.

"I think if Zack wrestles his best," he said, "I think we’ll be wrestling next weekend."