In addition, senior Gareth Behr won the first individual state championship in school history with a dominating run to the 220-pound title.
In addition to Behr, Bolivar qualified five other wrestlers for State in Sam Hughes (113 lbs.), Alex Neal (120 lbs.), Jesse Sherman (132 lbs.), Haryl Starkey (170 lbs.), and Aaron Allen (182 lbs.). Starkey, a senior this season, is the lone returnee, though, as the other five state qualifiers have departed to graduation.
Starkey will be joined in the upper weights this season by T.J. Ridge, Nohea Creech and Shane Bauman, while the middle weights will be anchored by Jacob Miles, Derek Williams, Uriah Lentz, and Josiah Lentz. Noah Ray, Logan Myers-Webb, Jordan Ball and Levi Hopkins will anchor the light weights. Tanner Isenberg will also look to contribute in the light weights, while Blake Britain, Sam Roweton and Robert Heydenrich will push for mat time in the middle weights, with Hayden Holbrook looking to contribute in the upper weights.
“As with most teams, depth is always a concern,” said head coach Mel Hughes, who is entering his seventh season at the helm. “If our top guy goes down in any weight class, we must look to our junior varsity wrester to step up and contribute. We have a young and inexperienced group of JV wrestlers. However, we have confidence that if they are called up, they will meet the challenge of varsity competition head on.
“We have confidence in our team’s ability to score bonus points,” added coach Hughes. “We always attack for the pin. This style results in a lot of scoring and fast-paced matches which produce major decisions and technical falls when we don’t get the pin. Of course, in order to wrestle at the pace we set, our wrestlers’ conditioning must be second to none and our guys pride themselves on that. ‘Shape wins’ and our guys have always bought into this philosophy.”
Bolivar, which is entering just its 14th season of wrestling, has established itself as a Class 2 state power in the past decade. In addition to coaching, talent and hard work, a big reason for the Liberators’ success has been the team’s readiness for the state tournament. Bolivar annually wrestles one of the toughest schedules in the state, a slate which includes some of the most top-heavy tournaments featuring Class 4 and Class 3 powerhouses.
“As always, we rely on the strength of our schedule to prepare our team for the district and state championships,” said coach Hughes. “Our tournament schedule is loaded with larger Class 3 and Class 4 schools. If our wrestlers respond to the challenges of a grueling regular season schedule, they will find success in the postseason.”
Bolivar will host the Bolivar Invitational Tournament on Dec. 1, and will compete in tournaments at Monett, Branson, and Warrensburg, as well as the Springfield Holiday Tournament and COC Championships. The Liberators, who will have a dual match with Class 4 power Ozark on Dec. 11, open their season with a dual match at Warrensburg on Nov. 27.
“At Bolivar, our focus is two-fold,” said coach Hughes. “Our first goal is to effectively teach our athletes the importance of being strong students and citizens of our community. We believe that being called a ‘student-athlete’ is a privilege and something not to be taken lightly. The skills and discipline our wrestlers demonstrate in the classroom will carry over into the athletic arena.