By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For some wrestling coaches, sometimes there’s not much more they can say to motivate their guys. Usually, it’s a season-ending loss that’ll serve that purpose.
So, when coach Billy Buckley saw several of his Kickapoo High School wrestlers walk out of the gym following the district tournament, he hoped that they wouldn’t forget the disappointment.
“We could see it in the eyes of some of our kids that made it to the match to go to state at districts. We had some kids miss it by one or two points. You could tell it sank in how close they came,” Buckley said. “I believe that that feeling helped motivate some of them, not to have that feeling of disappointment this year. It all starts in the practice room on a daily basis for all of them.”
Buckley anticipates between 30 to 40 wrestlers on the roster this season, including nine returning starters. However, the team does not have a returning state qualifier. One plus? It had six freshmen in the starting lineup a year ago, and their collective experience could help them battle this year.
The projected roster has freshman Tobias Collins and sophomore Mitchell Lambert competing at 106 pounds, while sophomore Gabe Appleberry (113), followed by sophomore Theo Holleman and freshman Tyrus Shurtz (120), junior Carter McKeel (126), sophomore Quinton Papa (138), junior Garrett Greve (145) and sophomore Tai Koyama (152).
In the upper weights, look for sophomore Josh Tofflemire and freshman Logan Lofthouse (160), senior Marquese Gaten (170), sophomore Kaden Rea (182), senior Rhys Koyoma (195), junior Corey Choates (220) and senior Grant Miller and sophomore Jaxson Glenn (285).
Tai Koyama was among those who just missed out on qualifying for state last season.
“He has put in a ton of time over the summer on the mats and competing,” Buckley said. “I think (districts) has fueled him a little in the offseason. He was able to complete at the varsity level last year with some success, but we will look to him to be one of our leaders in the room, and push to make a deep run in the postseason for us.”
Choates has a similar storyline.
“Corey has put in a lot of work in the weight room and physically will be on the same level as many of the guys he wrestled last year,” Buckley said. “He is a big, strong kid that will be able to complete at a high level in our upper weights.”
Miller is interesting. He was behind state qualifier Jason Norman last year.
Two freshmen are worth watching, too. Miller and Shurtz have youth and middle school experience.
“They will both bring a high energy to our lower weight classes,” Buckley said. “Both of these young men have high motors and led the Cherokee (Middle School) program the last two years.”
Rhys Koyoma also wants in on the run to a state appearance.
“He is another young man that has dedicated himself over the summer,” Koyoma said. “He has put in his time on and off the mat and will look to compete for one of those varsity spots in our upper weights.”
This marks Buckley’s 16th season at Kickapoo, and he is hoping to start seeing the benefits of the Springfield Public Schools’ decision a couple of years ago to help middle school wrestling fall under the MSHSAA umbrella.
But it’s still a young roster.
“Those guys all got a taste of what it was like to compete at that level. We have had a steady increase of kids in our room over the past couple of years and some of that comes from us being able to build that structure at the middle school level with our feeder schools,” Buckley said. “Being able to have kids compete on the mat for our feeder schools drives them to want to compete for our high school team, and we are really starting to see the benefits of that with our high school team, having kids come in with a strong base in the sports is totally different then have to start at step one with a freshman.”
On the girls side, Kickapoo has only two on the roster, including sophomore Amelia Daugherty.
Over the summer, Kickapoo also had workouts three days a week as well as open mat sessions.
“I believe those that put in the work this summer will see the payoff,” Buckley said.