By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Monett’s Harrison Merriman racked up 40 wins and won the Class 2 heavyweight championship as a sophomore.
But according to head coach Ben Hohensee, Merriman’s best wrestling is still ahead of him. That should be a frightening proposition for 285-pounders around the state.
“He hasn’t even filled into his feet yet,” Hohensee said last fall. “He hasn’t figured out what he’s capable of yet. He’s going to be very scary the next two years with his size, athletic ability and will to win. He’s a smart kid so it’s going to be fun to see how much better he’s going to get in the next two years.”
Still just a junior, Merriman has added to his resume already this school year with Class 4 All-State honors as a 6-foot-4 offensive lineman. And last weekend in Seneca he claimed his second-straight Big 8 Conference championship while hiking his record to 31-1. He’s currently ranked as the top heavyweight in Class 2 by missouriwrestling.com.
“I’m getting better every day,” he said Friday after pinning an opponent from McDonald County in one minute and fourteen seconds. “It’s just about getting in and practicing and working every day.”
His only blemish came January 16 in the Branson Invitational, where he suffered a 7-4 overtime defeat to Ozark’s Hunter Tennison in the first-place match. Hohensee hopes that loss could be a positive in the long run.
“I think we’re still moving forward,” he said. “The more competition he has the more he’s going to rise to the occasion. He had his first test (at Branson) which as an athlete you want the undefeated season; as a coach that was good fuel for the fire for him to lose a close match. The intensity’s definitely gone up this week, he’s going the right direction. He’s a stud and I always knew he could be.”
“He’s definitely on his way but he’s still got so much to learn,” he said. “He’s just a good kid.”
“I’m just finishing matches more, getting more pins this year,” Merriman said.
That was on full display in the Big 8 tournament at Seneca. Merriman won all five matches by fall in 74 seconds or less, and three of them ended in less than a minute. Quick wins will be even more important in this year’s postseason.
Last year Merriman wrestled once on day one, twice on day two and once on day three in the state tournament. But this year’s state competition will be packed into one day, meaning Merriman will likely have to wrestle three times on the same day to win another title.
A sectional round has also been added. The top four finishers in each district will face off in four sectional tournaments, with the top three advancing to state. There will be just 12 state qualifiers.
“A big key on that is just go into state being a one seed,” Merriman said. “You get the bye the first round, which puts you in a lot better spot than having to wrestle four matches in one day.”
“Last year at state my quarterfinals, semifinals and finals were all full three periods and that can get pretty tiring,” he said. “It’ll be whoever has the most conditioning at the end I think.”
With the new format, Hohensee said if you lose in the first round the best you can finish is fifth. In the past the Cubs have had wrestlers lose in the first round and wrestle back to third place.
“You can’t have those mistakes,” he said. “That first match is important.”
“Definitely your preparation, your mindset’s got to be on point at all times,” he said. “We’ll see. I think the guys are excited. They understand we’ll take what we can get. With a year like this we’re just happy we can keep competing.”
Merriman will spend the next month-plus – state has also been pushed back to March – working on his footwork and being fluid on the mat. He also wants to work on multiple attacks.
Hohensee wants to see him be confident on bottom – and also wants Merriman to stay hungry.
“I still think he’s the best heavyweight in the state but it doesn’t matter what I think, he’s got to go out and prove it,” he said.
There’s been one other big change for Merriman and the Cubs this season, though mostly in name only. Hohensee is the team’s new head coach after Daryl Bradley stepped down following a second-straight team championship last year.
Things aren’t much different. Bradley coached for 20 years, but Hohensee was an assistant for the final seven.
“A few years ago Hohensee started leading practices,” Merriman said. “He was basically leading everything last year and it was an easy transition moving from Daryl to Hohensee.”