By Kary Booher
Now that he is in his second year as the wrestling coach of the Rogersville Wildcats, Jason Carter knows his team well enough.
That is, well enough to challenge each of his guys individually. And why not? Rogersville returns four state qualifiers and four others who reached bubble matches in the district tournament, meaning they were only one win shy from advancing, too.
“We really challenged our kids in the offseason to be better in the weight room and offseason conditioning,” Carter said. “And every challenge they stepped up and met. That left us with knowing how far we could challenge them.”
Talk to Carter about the job and you can hear the excitement in his voice.
For one thing, he is a former assistant at Ozark High School and previously spent nine seasons as the top wrestling coach at Nixa High School.
Even better, numbers should have increased in the room. About 40 students have signed up.
“I’m really excited for this year,” Carter said. “Last year, I didn’t know any of the kids.”
The returning state qualifiers are Brock Carter, Caleb Swearingin, Lucas Campbell and Isaac Swearengin.
Carter could move to 126 pounds after competing at 113 last season, while Caleb Swearengin may head to either the 138- or 145-pound weight class after competing at 126. Campbell was at 132 and could return there, if not move to 138. Isaac Swearingin also may return to 152, or compete at 160.
“Lucas will be my hammer this year,” Carter said. “He’s going into every tournament expecting to win it. And he did everything right in the offseason.”
The hope is that Campbell will build off some tough match-ups last season. He placed second in the district tournament, but his first-round state opponent was Oak Grove’s Shawn Kavadas, who eventually repeated as state champion. Campbell then had a tough opponent in the opening of an Iowa summer tournament.
“Hopefully,” Carter said, “there will be a lot of reward in that.”
Experience from youth club wrestling could benefit Caleb Swearingin, and Isaac Swearingin should provide valuable leadership.
Those who just missed out on a state tournament berth last season were Preston Sleeth (likely back at 106), Isaiah Smythe (competing anywhere from 132 to 152), Devin Vickery (171 to 182) and Noah Gann (heavyweight class).
“Smythe is a kid who has all the physical tools,” Carter said. “If he can figure out just how good he can be, he can be really, really good.”
A freshman, Jay Strausbaugh, also was a two-time state qualifier in the USA Kids Wrestling and could compete at 119 pounds. The Wildcats also will welcome back Jake Gutierrez, the football team’s running back who sat out last season. He lost a bubble match in overtime as a sophomore.
All in all, it’ll be a season of building up to the postseason for Rogersville, whose district includes Monett, Odessa and Pleasant Hill – some of the best teams in Class 2.
“It’s been a blessing for me (to coach again),” Carter said. “I’ve been coaching for 19 years, and this group has bought in as much or more than any group I’ve worked with.”