By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For most of the past decade, you could pretty much bank on Nixa High School wrestling fielding competitive teams dotted with a state champion here and there as well as state qualifiers.
But this time last year, coach Dustin Martin expressed an urgency to return to those times, as the program had hit somewhat of a lull.
And now look, after working in the room and the hallways and shoring up other areas of the program, the narrative is starting to change to Martin’s liking. After all, Nixa qualified three wrestlers for the Class 4 state tournament last year, and all three return. Plus, they’ll be flanked by a competitive supporting cast.
“And for the next three to four years, we have some pretty strong incoming freshmen. We haven’t had that in a while,” Martin said. “Part of it, our youth club has tripled the numbers the last two years. And we have a good junior high school coach, Jerry Inman. He was at Branson and he had a kid wrestling in our freestyle club. He’s a student of the sport.”
Martin’s concern was understandable a year ago. Nixa in 2015 opened a new athletics facility, which covered 7,500 square feet, including 5,000 square feet of mats, along with stationary bikes, treadmills, TVs for film study and bleachers for team meetings.
It’s from that room where Donovan Benetti has become one of Nixa’s top wrestlers.
Benetti is a two-time state qualifier who placed sixth last season after losing to eventual champion Zach Elam of Staley. Benetti, who won 40 matches last year, is expected to return to the 195-pound weight class.
“He’s been good every year he’s been with us,” Martin said. “He wants to win a state championship. Last year, he lost to a three-time finalist who he had beaten at the Kansas City Stampede.”
Benetti could drop to 182 or go as high as 220. He’s versatility and athletic, with time in yoga and running and in the Eierman Elite Wrestling club where University of Missouri national champion J’Den Cox trained.
“For his body size, 195 fits him pretty well,” Martin said. “If it’s 182, how much muscle does he lose?
Oswaldo Garcia placed third last year at 220 pounds, winning 39 matches – including his final four matches after a first-round state tournament setback.
“He’s a tough kid and a great student,” Martin said. “He’s one of the nicest kids but, when he’s on the mat that’s where he’s a little aggressive. He’ll come in and work hard.”
Hunter Christeson, a sophomore, will move to 113 after qualifying for state at 106.
“We still have a lot of technique to learn with him,” Martin said. “But he’s one of those guys who has been up at open mat four days a week at 6 a.m.”
Keep an eye on Jordan Eli, a 152-pound senior who was a medalist in North Dakota two years ago. He placed second in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle at the Southern Plains tournament.
The rest of the lineup includes Deagan Fugitt at 106, Brayden Middleton at 120, Ethan Shepherd at 126, Kolyn Eli at 132 while Logan Lewis, Dustin McCort and Dylan Rust could see time at 138. Chandler McAtee (145), 2016 state qualifier Mason Simmons and Charles Hawkins are listed at 160, while Trevor Rock and Austin Davis are at 170. Look for DeSean Down and Marek Davis at 182 and Ryan Davis at 285.
Nixa is hosting a district tournament at Drury University.
“We have a group of returning guys and a good size number of kids who like wrestling,” Martin said.