By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Small towns that graduate a rare state champion wrestler probably wonder if the next big box-office draw will come years down the road.
That’s not the case for the Buffalo High School boys wrestling team. Despite sending off Floyd Miller last May, the Bison could be pretty competitive again as they try to reclaim the Central Ozark Conference Tournament and earn a Top 10 finish at the Class 2 state tournament.
“Floyd Miller and Ethan Smith set a high bar as state champions and placers in all four of their seasons,” Buffalo coach Nate Kenady said. “This has elevated everyone else in the room, and we’ve been conference champions three out of the last four seasons – and a top 10 team at state the last three seasons. With their departure, many wrestlers in the room are looking to make their mark and continue a winning culture.”
Buffalo could have about 45 wrestlers in the room, with 30 being on the boys team. Ten boys are returning starters, including a medalist.
The projected roster covers sophomore Cornelius Kidd (106), senior Andrew Castaneda (113), junior Connor Pinkley (120), sophomore Isaac French (126), followed by a string of sophomores — Adam Mayberry (132), sophomore Damian Thousand (138), John Jenkins (145) and Landon Parker (152). Castaneda was 26-23 last season and a conference champion. Pinkley was a state qualifier.
In the upper weights, look for senior Blake Daher (160), sophomores Colten White (170) and Brock Maverick (182), senior Pete Herrera (195), junior Bodie Jasper (220) and senior Levi Kenady (285).
Herrera is a two-time state qualifier who placed fifth at state last year.
“He was 15 seconds from a district title last year and that wrestler was in the state finals,” Coach Kenady said. “He’s worked hard in the offseason, and playing football this year will help with his conditioning early. We expect him to be in the hunt for a state title as well. He’s talking to Neosho (juco) and Buena Vista for college.”
Daher was 45-12 last season and a conference champion and one of the winningest wrestlers in the Kenady era. He is looking at Drury University.
“He had an unfortunate tough weight class his freshman and junior years losing in the bubble match at districts both years, and that was after he suffered a torn ACL his sophomore year,” Kenady said. “He has the skills to be a state champion, and we look forward to him reaching his potential this year.”
Levi Kenady also is out to atone for the end of last season, when he fell a win shy of qualifying for state.
“He has put in a lot of work in the offseason, getting stronger, and now holds the bench press and squat record at the school,” Coach Kenady said. “We saw a change in him last year during season, and he’s continued that development and it has shown on the football field as well. We expect him to be another wrestler capable of pushing for a state title.”
Pinkley was a 2018 state qualifier.
“He was one of our quickest learners,” Kenady said, noting Pinkley began wrestling only as a freshman, and then advanced to state where he also won matches. “He did not compete his sophomore year and returns to wrestling his junior year hungry to return to state. He’s still at a low weight class, and his offseason practices have given us much to be excited about.”
Jenkins had two defending state champions in his weight class at the district tournament last year. However, he won 30-plus matches.
“He’s put in a lot of offseason work, including competing in Fargo,” Kenady said. “He’s also great in the class room, and it translates to the mat where he’s proven a smart wrestler.”
Buffalo could have a few so-called sleepers, such as Brock Maverick, White and Parker. Maverick was behind Miller and Herrera last year. White and Parker have developed well from hitting the weight room.
“I think this will be a good year for our seniors and a great growing year for the number of sophomores that we have starting experience,” Kenady said. “We are definitely a younger team. I’m looking forward to seeing who takes that next step.”
On the girls side, 10 of the 15 are returning starters. The big name is Lizzie Miller, who won a state title and is expected at 116 pounds. She competed in boys competition and qualified for state in 2017. She was 24-1 last year.
Its roster includes junior Katie Waters and sophomore Emily Waters (103), freshman Laura Maddux (110), senior Lizzie Miller (116), Madison Andersen (121), Drew Vannostrand (126), Skyler Maverick (131), Savannah Rice (143), Kaithylynn Warner (152), Jada Watson (167) and Honalee Hunt (187).
Maverick was a state qualifier and was 31-7 last year. Watson was a district champion and state qualifier, finishing 31-11.
“Right now, it’s about the same turnout that we’ve seen in previous years on the boys side,” Kenady said. “On the girls side, we’ve had twice as much interest.”