By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Just how popular has the sport of wrestling become in Carthage?
Ninety-five wrestlers have signed up this year. The school’s football roster lists 89 names.
“For the first time ever we are going to need to have cuts,” said head coach Kenny Brown. “Depth will not be a problem this season. Finding matches for our JV will be.”
Brown credited assistants Nate Kelly, John Petticrew and Clint Spencer for helping manage the large number and hopes to add Kellen Bounous as a volunteer assistant. He said the recruiting job by junior high coaches is paying dividends.
The growth also comes after a 10th-place finish at state last year after Carthage bumped up to Class 4. The Tigers had eight state qualifiers and three medalists. All but Dalen Moore return; he was fifth at 126 pounds and graduated in the spring.
Returning qualifiers are senior Kale Schrader (220 pounds), senior Brener Ocana (285), sophomore Braxdon Tate (106), senior Tanner Russow (120), junior Dagan Sappington (132), senior Kelten Campbell (152) and senior Brandon Crow (170).
Schrader turned in one of the all-time great seasons for a Carthage wrestler last year, winning the state championship and going undefeated at 54-0. He’ll return at 220 pounds this winter.
“Regardless of his abilities on the wrestling mat, what he brings to the team as a leader is more valuable to us,” Brown said.
Schrader became just the fourth Carthage wrestler in 47 seasons to go undefeated, joining Jim Gourley in 1977 (28-0-1), Michael Butts in 1997 (41-0) and Toby Waters in 2002 (39-0).
“Out of the 56 possible weight classes in 2019, there were only 12 undefeated state champions,” Brown said. “It just doesn’t happen that often anymore because of the level of competition that teams seek out on a regular basis during the regular season.”
Ocana went 46-13 last year and placed sixth at state as a heavyweight. He’s a two-time qualifier.
“He really benefited from having Kale in the room last year and he grew as a wrestler,” Brown said. “He executes techniques that aren’t expected from a kid his size, in part because of wrestling with Kale all of the time.”
Tate will likely bump up a few weight classes to wrestle at 126 this season and Brown expects big things after he came one match from placing last year. Russow will return at 120 and was also one match away from placing. Sappington should return at 132 and is a two-time qualifier. Campbell will likely bump up to 160 pounds; he transferred to Carthage last year from Utah and was a state placer there. Crow should bump up to 182 and is another two-time qualifier.
Besides replacing Dalen Moore, the Tigers must also replace Colton Winder and Victor Salazar who were varsity starters. The team graduated a total of eight seniors. Moore’s production will be the hardest to replace; he was one of four wrestlers in Carthage history to place all four years and is ranked second all-time at Carthage in wins with 164.
Carthage returns several others who earned varsity experience last year. Senior Selvin Estrada wrestled 15 matches at 126 and will compete for that spot this year. Sophomore Eli Sneed wrestled at 145, junior Carlos Reyes wrestled at 113 and was 32-18, senior Anderson Ixcol won 23 matches and was at 145, senior Trulyn Kendrick won 28 matches and was at 160, and senior Caleb Triplett and sophomore Kanen Vogt were each at 195.
“The question is how we are going to be able to fit kids into the different weight classes,” Brown said. “I’m guessing that we will have kids on JV that are capable of being varsity on a lot of teams throughout the state.”
Sophomore Chris Lopez will battle a couple freshmen at 106 pounds. Seniors Emanuel Chavez, Mitchell Frisinger and junior Brexton Logan will battle for 138. Nine different guys could earn the spot at 152 and seven are fighting for 170, with Obed Gonzalez the only one with varsity experience.
Brown said the coaching staff prides itself on the strength of the program as a whole and he noted the junior varsity team has won the Central Ozark Conference tournament two of the last three years.
“We don’t get a lot of freshman phenoms coming in,” he said. “We have a bunch of kids who want to be part of what has been built in Carthage over the past 47 seasons and we try and develop them into solid wrestlers and respectable young men. That is why our numbers have exploded. Our lineup is fairly solid up and down because of that, and when you get the kids like Moore, Schrader and Ocana in the lineup as well, it allows you to score some serious points when the state series comes around.”