By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Carrying on the tradition of Neosho High School’s wrestling team doesn’t just mean winning matches, if you ask longtime coach Jeremy Phillips.
That’s why he is putting the onus on his seven seniors to shoulder the leadership role on a team that features four juniors, six sophomores and 14 freshmen.
“We have a talented senior class, but I think the biggest challenge is they put the focus on bringing up the freshmen and taking on a leadership role,” Phillips said. “It’s what makes our team more focused on being a team.”
The Wildcats are the premier team of southwest Missouri and among the premier teams across the state, as Neosho has won seven state championships in the past eight years – including its fifth consecutive last March.
A year ago, the Wildcats were undefeated in team duals, won the Central Ozark Conference and district tournament, too. But that team featured six seniors.
The returnees feature five state qualifiers, including four placers. Among them is three-time medalist Adrian Hitchcock, who captured the 285-pound state championship last year and won 51 of his 53 matches.
“He needs to show (teammates) what got him there,” Phillips said. “He’s unique has humor and personality. But, at the same time, I’m going to expect him to take on a leadership role.”
The other seniors include: 132-pound Trenton Young, who has placed second and third the past two years; two-time qualifier Joey Williams, who was 51-5 last year and placed third and will compete between 170 and 182; as well as Robert Davis (145-152), Sam Townsend (160), Isaac Johnston (285) and Titus Baker (182).
Junior Braxton Barnes (138) placed fourth last year and finished 46-11, and sophomore Kolton Sanders (113-120) returns after qualifying for state.
The team includes juniors Alec Rothman (145-152), Trevor Box (182), Johnny Morrison (138) and sophomores Zane Persinger (195-220), Bret Camerer (126), Brady Franklin (113-120) and Noah Reiboldt (12-126).
Phillips expressed some disappointment with the team’s overall commitment in the spring and summer, as he encouraged they compete in tournaments regionally and nationally. His teams also usually take part in the University of Missouri camp, and Phillips this summer brought in Mike Eierman, who runs Eierman Elite Wrestling and was once a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center.
“Not every year is guaranteed,” Phillips said.
A number of freshmen competed well in the youth circuit in Cayden Auch, Braxton Crane, Jacob Fry, Landon Kivett, Jeremiah Larson and Drayke Perry. Other freshmen include Buck Myles, Caleb Elliott, Isaac Harris, Wyatt Keplar, Landon Pooler, Jeyzee Rubio, James Weaver and Remington Younger.
What Phillips said about them arguably summed up the Neosho program as a whole.
“They are kids who should have medals around their neck (at season’s end),” Phillips said. “That’s the kind of kids we have.”