By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Here’s the neat thing about coach Jeremy Phillips’ strategy for the Neosho High School wrestling team this season: It’s all about self-accountability and not being overly consumed with everybody else or what they say.
Just look at the board in the room, where Phillips wrote “2 ½ points.” The Wildcats last March fell that short of winning a seventh state championship in eight seasons and a sixth consecutive.
“It didn’t leave my mind,” Phillips said, later adding that he plans to emphasize, “The target isn’t on our back. The target is in front of us.”
The Wildcats return 14 lettermen and five state medalists. Yet it’s an interesting outlook considering Neosho graduated some top talent in state champions Adrian Hitchcock (285) and Trenton Young (132) and third-place finisher Joey Williams (182). Hitchcock was a two-time state champion.
“We will have to use every opportunity we have to improve as we will have a young group filling a majority of our weights,” Phillips said.
Neosho placed all eight state qualifiers last year but saw Kearney win state with all 10 of its qualifiers placing.
“Our motto is ‘Back To Our Roots,’” Phillips said. “We don’t need to seek secrets. There words that go with that motto, too, — faith, family, work ethic, loyalty and humility.”
The returning state medalists are sophomore Cayden Auch, senior Braxton Barnes and juniors Kolton Sanders and Zane Persinger and sophomore Drayke Perry.
Listed at 120 pounds, Auch won a state title, the 52nd win in 55 matches for him last season. And it was by pin against a nationally ranked wrestler.
“That was a statement pin,” Phillips said. “And he has put a ton of time in this summer.”
Auch and Sanders could compete at either 120 and 126.
Sanders, a two-time state qualifier who placed third last year, has gone 36-22 and 38-14 each of the past two seasons. His only loss at the state tournament was to the eventual state champion, and he also avenged a major-decision loss with a win.
“He’s got to add more offense and more weapons,” Phillips said. “He was lights out (last year), and I was really proud of Kolton Sanders.”
Barnes, one of three seniors on the roster, is at 145 after placing fourth and finishing 47-8.
Persinger and Perry placed fifth a year ago.
The rest of the projected varsity roster includes sophomore Landon Kivett and junior Nate Copeland at 106, freshman Hayden Crane (113), junior Noah Reiboldt and Gabriel Selby (132), freshman Jacob Selby (138), senior Alec Rothman (152), sophomore Jeremiah Larson or junior Keaton Sanders at either 160 or 170, sophomore Caleb Elliott at 195 and senior Tre’ Letts and junior Joe Friend at 285.
At the conference meet, Rothman was third while juniors Bret Camerer (third), Brady Franklin (fourth) and Keaton Sanders (seventh) placed. Larson (second) and Elliott (fifth) also placed.
A large freshman class also should provide good depth, with assistant coaches Chad Coleman, Frank Hebert, Austin Hailey and Ben Elledge lending value insight.
“We’ve got to develop our kids and not just in technique,” Phillips said, emphasizing mental toughness. “If I can get through two-a-days, we’ve got them hooked.”