By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
From the mid-1990s and into the 2000s, Grant Leighty coached wrestling up around Kansas City and, at one point, his eyes turned toward the central part of the state, to Camdenton.
“I just about came here in 2007. At that time, Camdenton was tough,” Leighty said. “I think we have potential of getting back there. It’s my job to get it back. We have the kids to do that.”
Leighty returns to the mats as a head coach this season to lead Camdenton, having spent the past six years as an assistant. Overall, he’s coached 24 years, 20 guiding programs in Clinton and Plattsburg.
Several of his teams at both schools finished in the top 10 at state tournaments, with his 2005 Plattsburg team placing second in Class 1 and his 2007 Clinton team placing fourth in Class 2.
Fortunately, the Lakers will stock the middle weights – specifically, 145 to 170 – with seniors who could, in effect, be the team’s firewall. Because, if you look elsewhere up and down the lineup, it’s dotted with sophomores and freshmen.
Those seniors are Gabe Blain (145), Winton Neal (152), Jesus Ramirez (160) and Mason Tibben (170).
“I’m expecting good things out of them,” Leighty said. “They’ve been working real hard and leading by example. I’m real hopeful that we can get things to swing our way this year.”
Camdenton, which graduated its only 2017 state qualifier in 152-pound Zion Vasquez, is expecting about 35 wrestlers this season.
The rest of the projected lineup includes a bevy of sophomores: Jacob Fuglsang (113), Caleb Libby (120) as well as Wyatt Stamper, Abby Cordia and Talon Randazzo at 126, Ethan Harris and Crew McAlpin at 138, Emilio Zabala (195), and Marcus Stephens (220). Freshmen are Grant Garrett (106), and Judiah Tillet (285). Junior Ryan Rothove is at 132, and Bryce Leuenberger is at 182.
“I really think the Garret kid – he’s a freshman but he’s tough,” Leighty said. “He’s had a lot of quality wins last year.”
Libby has moved back into the school district, and Rothove is eager for a healthy season after missing most of the past two because of injuries. Neal was lost to an injury three weeks before last season’s district tournament, where Ramirez lost in the bubble match and just missed a state tournament berth.
“We’re trying to change the whole demeanor with the program. We’ve just got to get back to basics,” Leighty said. “We had about six to 10 kids working in the offseason who weren’t in football and we’re real happy about that.”
Leighty is doing his part to emphasize wrestling in football-mad Camdenton, going so far as to invite former standout wrestlers back for duals and what not. It was a staple at his prior stops.
“I’m trying to get that mentality here and, for the most part, we are,” Leighty said. “I think we’re going in the direction we need to be going.”