By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
At times, Dustin Martin has legitimate concerns. You see, his Nixa High School wrestling team finished last season with 21 wrestlers, and 10 graduated.
On the flip side, the veteran coach knows what the sales pitch needs to be, both in recruiting the hallways and in practice. Simply put – take advantage of the situation. Go earn a spot and show everybody what you’ve got.
“We’re going to be young,” Martin said. “This year, we’re going to have to go out and battle for wins.”
It’s an odd spot for a program whose annual rosters consisted of state qualifiers, an occasional state champion and pretty good depth. But only 35 are out this season, although reinforcements are lurking in middle school.
The lighter weights could be the Eagles’ strength.
Look for Peyton Moore, a freshman at 106.
“He may be a leader in the lighter weights,” Martin said. “He’s been a multiple placer in youth wrestling, and that gives you an indication of his skill level.”
Sophomore Deagan Fugitt, who was 25-22 last year, could be Nixa’s 113-pounder.
“He’s been one of the hardest workers in the offseason,” Martin said.
Cole Crahan, a freshman, could be at 120, while Hunter Christeson, a junior, could go to 126 or 132. He wrestled only two matches last year due to injury.
“He does have some credentials, but he’s been out 12 to 14 months,” Martin said.
Ethan Shepherd, a junior, was 21-20 on varsity last year – his second year on varsity.
“He’s a quiet kid and works hard,” Martin said. “He could be a leader on the team.”
Sophomore Dylan Carter was 120 last year but also is right there in the 120 to 132 weight classes. He was 14-23 last year.
Kolyn Eli, a sophomore, was 10-8 on varsity last year and could wrestle at 145 or 152.
“He had a strong freshman year and just ran into a tough weight class at districts,” Martin said.
Dylan Rust also could be a factor at 138.
Overall, Martin hopes that last year’s district tournament serves as a learning lesson, since the Eagles went 0-5 in bubble matches. He’s also hoping efforts to recruit the hallways pays off in the upper weights.
In recent years, Nixa’s upper weights have featured Donovan Benetti, Christian Lance and Ozzie Garcia. Benetti was a three-time state qualifier and placed sixth in 2017.
“It was kind of a double-edged sword,” Martin said. “Some of the guys I’ve spoken with, who didn’t wrestle the last couple of years, said they didn’t want to wrestle because they didn’t want to wrestle JV.”
Those other upper weights could be filled by Dustin McCort (170), Joe Simmons (182-220), Michael Turner (182), Marek Davis (182) and DeSean Downs (220).
Downs is interesting. He’s a 6-foot-205-pounder who had never played football before this season and yet is a starting lineman.
“He’s so athletic and strong, if we can get him to que in on some things, he could be a good wrestler for us,” Martin said.