2016-17 wrestling preview: Willard

By Kary Booher

For some wrestling programs, the graduations of two standouts – that is, two who combined to earn seven state medals – might be devastating.

But that may not be the case for the Willard Tigers, despite four-time state placer (and 2015 state champ) Hunter Yeargan now at Ohio University and Kyle Caldwell now at Drury University.

Willard returns three other state medalists, including 138-pound Class 3 state champion Niko Chavez, now at 152 pounds. Plus, the Tigers have experience in other weight classes and, even better, the town’s youth program that has been building for the past few years has deployed a few freshmen, too.

Call it a good problem to have for coach Justin Wisdom, now in his second season at Willard after several years coaching at Rogersville and Belton.

“Obviously it’s going to be hard to replace Kyle and Hunter,” Wisdom said. “But I have high expectations for the room, and there are kids coming up from the youth program. We expect to compete and do the right things in and out of the room.”

The Tigers enjoyed a productive spring and summer.

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For instance, Chavez placed second and third, respectively, in the state freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments, was eighth at the Ohio Tournament of Champions and won the Corn Cob Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa. Chavez also traveled to the Cliff Keen Conflict at Carver in mid-October in Iowa City.

“There are high expectations for him,” Wisdom said. “He’s had a lot of success in the postseason and preseason. Him coming back as a senior is going to be great for our team.”

Christian Smart, a senior at 195, placed fourth at 182 last season, when 126-pound junior Alex Garrett was fifth at 120. Austin Hymer, a state qualifier last year, is back at 220.

“A state title is not out of the question for (Smart),” Wisdom said. “He’s had a really good year in football, and I think he’ll have a good year in wrestling as well.”

The rest of the projected lineup looks like this: freshman Riley Wertz at 106, Jonah Peters at 113, Tallon Heimbach at 120, junior Bruin Wildermuth at 132, sophomore Gracie Lawhon at 138, senior James Stagner at 145, junior Aaron Schuerger at 160, senior Morgan Earl at 170 and Cameron Caldwell at 182. Martin Eidson is back at heavyweight after winning 24 matches last season, his first in wrestling.

Caldwell placed third and second, respectively in the state freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments. Garrett placed well in both, too, plus competed in the Southern Plains freestyle tournament. Heimbach placed third in Greco-Roman state.

“(Earl) is going to be a guy we’re going to look for to replace Kyle and Hunter,” Wisdom said, meaning Earl will be key in scoring team points in duals and tournaments. “He’s got a lot of potential. Morgan has wrestled a few years. He competed on the varsity level all year last year and ended up at 152, with a 26-13 record. And he was a match away from making state. He did a lot of good things.”

Wisdom, an assistant football coach, credits wrestling assistants Joey McLain, Dedric Brink and Nicolas Dixson for maintaining the fall training schedule.

“We’re excited as a staff, and I think the team is excited,” Wisdom said. “A lot of guys have done something good things in the offseason. We can see the potential in this team.”