By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For the fifth-straight year the Seneca wrestling team finished second or better last season at the Class 1 state championship.
That was despite a fairly young, inexperienced lineup for the Indians. Seneca still managed eight state qualifiers and seven medalists.
“It started with the Big 8 tournament and it snowballed into districts and state,” head coach Jeff Sill said.
Seneca won the Class 1 District 2 tournament in Knob Noster with 177.5 points, beating the host by more than 40. The Indians scored 126.5 at state, beating Lathrop by four-and-a-half, but they finished well behind champion Whitfield, which scored 192.
That was the third-straight year Seneca finished second to Whitfield at state, and the fourth time in five years overall. The exception was 2016 when Seneca won the title.
Seneca has five qualifiers and four medalists returning this winter, but things will get more difficult as the Indians move up from Class 1 to Class 2. Their new district houses many Class 2 powers including defending state champion Monett and runner-up Bolivar.
The Indians must replace graduated seniors Levi Connelly (second at 106 pounds), Dalton Hembree (fifth at 145) and Dayton Fields (first at 170).
Seneca’s list of returning wrestlers is highlighted by sophomore Kendon Pollard (third at 113), junior Clayton Swadley (sixth at 120), junior Zane Cotten (third at 152) and seniors Skyleer Commons (qualifier at 195) and Grant Durman (sixth at 285).
“Kendon is wanting to get in the finals and take his shot at a state championship and Cotten is too,” Sill said. “Both of those guys have put time in in the summer and we’re looking forward to seeing what they can accomplish. At 285 Grant’s getting stronger and he’s wanting to improve and get higher up on that medal stand also. Swadley has put a lot of time in during the summer and he’s grown a little bit so we’re excited to see where he ends up and if he can change that color of medal also.”
Pollard finished last year with a 37-6 record and Cotten went 44-14. Swadley was 29-25, Commons was 34-19 and Durman went 25-22.
“That’s a pretty good core,” Sill said. “We had some kids who didn’t qualify last year and we expect for them to step up and we had some freshmen that were in that no go round and hopefully they can turn the corner and produce at state.”
Seneca returns close to 10 varsity wrestlers overall. Among them are Cole Whitehead, Gabriel Commons, Dane Napier and Jakob Tate. Whitehead is a junior who wrestled at 126 last year, Commons is a sophomore who was at 132, Napier is a sophomore who was at 138 and Tate is a junior who was at 220.
Whitehead made it to the semifinals of his district bracket and he and Commons both came up just one win shy of qualifying for state. Commons had the most wins of that group with 30 and Tate won 25 matches.
Freshmen Brady Roark and Lincoln Renfro could also be in the lineup. Sophomore Braden Thiel will also compete for a spot after wrestling varsity last year.
“Brady’s brothers were state placers and actually state champions for us,” Sill said. “He’s got high hopes of coming in as a placer. He’s really polished, a good little wrestler. Lincoln is another freshman who’s going to fight for a varsity spot and he’s put a lot of time in in the offseason. We expect good things from him.”
“It’s just fun to see what we start off with and seeing the kids continue to get better,” Sill said. “If they do what they’re supposed to do as individuals those team goals are there. The kids have really put some good years together and we’ve been very fortunate in keeping everybody healthy and being able to fill a lineup.”