By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One year after his team won only three of its 16 duals, Republic High School wrestling coach Jerry Morton can use last season as a positive.
Why not? Ten returning starters are back in the room, including two state medalists – including a senior who could inspire all the others. Plus, a challenging season typically leads to good learning experiences and possibly better results.
“We were very young last year and, in turn, took some beatings. We look to improve our overall team by getting numbers back up and instilling a better work ethic in the younger guys,” Morton said. “Our goal is to finish in the top five of every tournament we go to and having medalists in each one. Our ultimate goal is to qualify more kids than last year for state.”
Leading the way is 145-pound senior Jonathan O’Connell, who is a two-time state runner-up in Class 3. He was 41-2 last season, suffering a 1-0 loss in the 138-pound finals.
“He is the hardest working kid we have in the room and is the ultimate leader,” Morton said. “He spent all of his off-season training with college wrestlers at Drury University. He is on a mission and is doing everything in his power to reach the top of the podium this year.”
The other returning state medalist is junior Wyatt George, who was sixth at 106 pounds last March. He finished 40-20 last season thanks to a strong, late-season surge. He could return to 106 this season.
“He has also spent his entire off-season training at Drury and is looking to improve on his sixth-place finish,” Morton said. “He’s a warrior in the practice room and on the mat.”
The rest of the projected starting lineup includes sophomore Dominick Famiano (120), junior Reese Lawler (126), senior Gabe Hesington (132), junior Brandon Cron (138) and freshman Connor Sandridge (152).
The upper weights include sophomore Michael Bailey (160), juniors Isaiah Madson (170) and David Honeycutt (182), senior John Hickman (195), sophomore Isaac Gyles (220) and Ethan Piles (285).
Sandridge has extensive experience in youth wrestling and was a state champion at 150 pounds.
“He’s wrestled all over the country and understands how to compete at a high level,” Morton said. “We are looking forward to seeing what he can do at the high school level.”
He’s not the only one to watch. Bailey enjoyed a successful junior varsity season last year.
“He decided that he was going to work hard in the off-season and went to Drury to train with the college wrestlers,” Morton said.
Gyles’ was a freshman at 220 last year, taking his lumps but could be better now for it.
“He is a hard-working kid and also plays on our varsity football team,” Morton said. “He has great instincts and good balance for a big kid, so we are expecting a good year from him.”
Morton has enhanced the schedule, with the additions of the Harrisonville Tournament on Dec. 20-21 and the Fort Zumwalt South Tournament on Jan. 25. Republic also will dual against Waynesville for the first time, and also has Wentzville, Liberty and Fort Zumwalt South the night before the Jan. 25 tournament. And that’s in addition to the Kinloch Classic.
“Our two returning state medalists are on a mission,” Morton said. “Both were very disappointed in the results at state last year and both look to reach the top of the podium this season. We are looking forward to watching them grow even further and excited to see what the incoming freshmen have to offer.”