By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Used to be, a Greene County high school wrestling program finishing in the top 10 at the state tournament would happen every so often.
Lately, the Willard Tigers are making it a habit of it, having finished in the top seven in Class 3 in four of the past five seasons.
“It is beginning to just become the culture of our Willard wrestling program to set lofty goals and achieve them,” Willard coach Justin Wisdom said. “We have solid kids that are willing to be pushed and believe in themselves. Once you have a culture emerging within any program, the expectations to have a good year are always there.”
Willard likely will have 40 boys wrestlers, including 10 returning starters – five who were state qualifiers. Those five are returning state champion Christian Finley, senior Ryder Heimbach, Tim Stevens, Noah Agcoaili and Oscar Martinez.
Look for Finley at either 126 pounds or 132 pounds. He was a state runner-up two years ago. He won the 113-pound weight class last February, pinning his first two opponents, then wining 9-3 and 16-1. He was 48-3.
“Besides his ability to score bonus points, we really look forward to his ability to be a great leader as a senior,” Wisdom said. “His maturity since March has really taken a huge leap.”
Last year marked Steven’s first trip to state, and he earned a medal. A senior, he could be at 138 pounds or 145.
“Tim is a tough kid that you can always count on,” Wisdom said. “He will need to improve his offense to stay ahead of his opponents this year.”
Agcaoli was 1-2 last year at state, his first trip. And now he’s a senior who could have a huge advantage in the 106-pound weight class.
“If he can continue to push himself and build his confidence,” Wisdom said, “he should be able to compete for a state medal in his senior campaign.”
Martinez qualified for state as a sophomore and just missed advancing last season. Look for him at 145 pounds.
“He has all the tools to make a run this season,” Wisdom said. “He is bigger than he has ever been because of the work he has put into the weight room. Last year he dropped more close matches than anyone on the team, so his offense has to be strong this season so he can be confident later in matches.”
The rest of the projected lineup could be junior Will Holdren (113), sophomore Jakkob Hudson (120), Jaxton Berry (126 or 132 depending on Finley), sophomore Andrew Keithley (152), senior C.J. Stanford or sophomore Tanner Moulden (160), sophomore Shane Shaugnessy or Heimbach (170), senior Rylan Dixon or Shaughnessy (182), senior Jonas Keohane (195) and senior Cole Keeton (220). Heavyweight is open.
“This season I’m sure is going to have its hurdles from the different COVID restrictions from county to county,” Wisdom said. “We look forward to just competing at a high level and laying more bricks in the Willard Wrestling Foundation. We will have a very enjoyable group of guys which should make for a fun season.”
Willard hired Miranda Bennett as associate head coach.
“She has came up through the well-known Neosho wrestling program and is a very driven young woman,” Wisdom said. “We are very excited to have her here at Willard and the girls are, too.”
Willard is expecting about a dozen girls on the team. Among them is senior Lexi Adams, a returning state qualifier.
“We have seen a significant increase in girl wrestlers already with just the announcement of her hire,” Wisdom said. “I really think girls wrestling here in Willard is going to catch fire.”