By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Over the summer, his best wrestler moved away and another state qualifier graduated.
However, while Republic High School wrestling coach Jerry Morton may be concerned, he’s actually optimistic. After all, he’s got an ally at the school in new football coach Doug Baldwin.
“It’ll be interesting with a new football coach to get the football players who maybe in the past decided not to come out,” Morton said. “He comes from Neosho (one of the state’s top wrestling programs), so it’s great to have that support here.”
Morton anticipates a healthy number of wrestlers (40) in the early going. That will be important just months after the team said goodbye to 195-pound junior and three-time state medalist Hunter Pyle as well as 220-pound senior state qualifier Julian Richardson.
Pyle’s dad got a job offer in Kansas City, so Pyle – who placed third last season — will wrestle at Staley High School.
“We’re going to be a pretty young team, mainly in the upper weights,” Morton said. “Most of our guys are going to be sophomores and freshmen.”
Fortunately, the Tigers have 11 wrestlers with varsity experience. One of the notables is 120-pound junior Michael Taylor, a two-time state qualifier who could return to 120 or move to 126.
“He’s gotten better every year,” Morton said. “He and (132-pound) John O’Connell would up being pretty good wrestling partners last year. (Taylor) got into a weights program in MMA to build up core strength. He should be coming back a lot stronger and a lot tougher.”
O’Connell, a sophomore, missed state after losing in overtime at the district tournament to an eventual state placer. He then competed at an Oklahoma State University camp, taking second there, and was first in his division at the Northeast Oklahoma A&M camp.
“This offseason, he’s put on a little weight, so he’s bigger and put on muscle,” Morton said. “He’s coming into his own and perfected a couple of moves.”
Morton also added of O’Connell, “He should make some noise. He made the usual mistakes as a freshman last year and doesn’t want to make them again as a sophomore.”
So makes that next step for Republic? That’s what Morton hopes to see from several of last year’s varsity guys.
The projected lineup has Wyatt George (106), Reese Lawler and Conner Russell competing at 113, Gabe Hesington and Kasey Daniels at 126, Sean Cross (138), Payton Cron (145), Blake Hulland (152), Seth Wild 9160), Michael Cox (170), Justin Sturdevant (182), Conner Vizio (195), Tyler Dawson and Cody Morehouse at 220 and Kyle Bougher and Darrin Aldrich at 285. Dawson, Cron and Wild are all seniors.
“Every one of them can make a contribution if they work hard,” Morton said.