By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Talk about your challenges. Four years ago, Cassville High School hired Nathan Fortner to build an entirely new wrestling program.
And now look – it’s trending in the right direction.
The Cassville Wildcats saw Keaton Atherton earn a state tournament medal – fourth place – and hope there is more good results in store this season. The team has 20 on the roster, including four state qualifiers, although Artherton has since graduated with a nice core of seniors.
“Last year we moved to the football fieldhouse for more room because the program was growing,” Fortner said. “We will be in there again as soon as the football team has finishes their season. It has been a great place to practice because we have more room and can leave the mats down throughout the day.”
The projected roster calls for a string of freshmen in the first few weight classes — Kurt Deaver (106), Edgar Perez or Akhilleus Arguelles at 113, Jake Anthony and Wyatt Alexander (120) as well as Matthew Whittenburg and Trey Wilson (126).
Look for junior Gabe Hunter at 132, followed by freshman Jadon Ewing or sophomore Cutter Hicks (138), sophomore Ethan Fuchs or junior Jerome Ewing (145) and sophomore Brody Barbee (152).
In the upper weights, it’s likely freshman Brennan Cielinski (160), sophomore Michael Morgan (170), junior Drake Reese (182), junior Zach Coenen (195), senior Nate Boley (220) and sophomore Garrett Kritz (285).
“This year I have some very good freshmen that have a lot of potential because they have had prior experience in the youth program,” Fortner said. “I have four upperclassmen that also have experience coming back into the program. Both of these groups of wrestlers wrestled through June in the offseason, working on technique and then wrestled at (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M) at a camp.”
Hunter and Coenen are pretty interesting. Hunter fell one win shy of earning a state tournament berth. Coenen is back after missing all of last season after sustaining an injury during the football season. Kritz, the heavyweight, has had a strong offseason.
Hunter, Hicks and Arguelles each have five years of experience in the sport, while Anthony has been at it for three years already – the same as Fuchs, Barbee, Cielinski, Boley and Krtiz.
“Our short-term goals for this season are to get better technique-wise, physically, and mentally each and every practice,” Fortner said. “This can only be done by showing up to work hard every day. Our long-term goals are to win matches during critical times of the year. An example would be a team dual win, team placing at a tournament, qualifying for state.”
The girls team includes sophomore Kelsey Harris (120) and three freshmen in Kaley Artherton (116), Sarah Longley (110) and Annie Moore (103).
“These are talented, athletic girls that are picking up the sport very quickly,” Fortner said.
Fortner was on the Seneca High School wrestling staff when that team won the 2015 state championship in Class 1. He is a 2010 Seneca graduate, and isn’t afraid to challenge his young bunch.
“We went to a wrestling camp at NEO where the students learned technique from different college wrestlers,” Fortner said. “The camp was also very effective because they got several matches in a three–day span, which helped them develop competitively as wrestlers.”