By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Look at the schedule for the Seneca High School wrestling program and you’d think that its coach had it out for his guys.
Instead, longtime coach Jeff Sill is only trying to challenge the Indians and position them for another run at the Class 1 state championship, an achievable goal almost every year in Seneca.
And why not? Six Seneca teams have placed in the top three at the state tournament since 2009, winning championships in 2010 and 2015.
They’ll certainly cut their teeth around the holidays when they compete in two-day tournaments at Harrisonville as well as Arkansas (in a team dual format) and Platte County north of Kansas City – plus a Saturday tournament at Branson. None are walks in the park, but that’s what piques the interest of Sill, now in his 23rd year coaching and 15th at Seneca.
“It’ll make us battle-ready and especially at the end of the year,” . We’ll see a lot of state placers.”
Seneca returns several of its six state placers from a year ago, including two-time state champion Dalton Hembree and 2016 state champion Max Roark.
Hembree won the 126-pound weight class last March but could move to 138 or 145 this season.
“He’s a tough-nosed kid. He likes to get after it,” Sill said. “He’s put on a little weight this year, and it’s quality weight. We’re excited to see how he’s going to compete.”
Roark placed third a year ago at 113 pounds and won the 106-pound championship in 2016.
“He’s a little spark plug for us,” Roark said. “He does a good job of leading by example. His brother was a good wrestler for us, so it’s good to have him in the room.”
Another state competitor should be Levi Connelly, who placed second at state last year in the 106-pound weight class and is expected to move to 113 this season.
“He could possibly got back to 103. We’ll see what’s best for him and the team,” Sill said. “He’s pretty tough on top and scores a lot of points on top. We’re working on getting the takedown and being more physical.”
Keep close watch of Dayton Fields, who placed third last year in 132 – by winning five consecutive matches after losing his tournament opener on last-second takedown. He may well move up to 152.
“It showed a lot about a kid who came back after losing early,” Sill said. “He’s going to do it. He’s going to put together a state tournament. He’s working hard.”
Dawson Stephens is a two-time state placer, including fifth last year at 120. He could move to 132.
Cole Hatfield, who placed sixth last year, could move up to 160.
“He’s been in position (to place higher), but has had some bad breaks,” Sill said of Hatfield.
Kale Schrader, a returning state qualifier, may compete at 195 or 220.
Meanwhile, Seneca’s 106- and 120-pound weight classes are up in the air. Look for Caleb Miller at 145, Trey Wilson at 170, Skyleer Commons at 182, Brady Hymer at 220 and Grant Durman at 285.
They’ll be among 28 wrestlers on the roster.
“We’re never satisfied,” Sill said. “We always want to improve and everybody else is trying to find an edge to beat us. We have to find a way to turn our weaknesses into our strengths.”