2021-22 Winter Preview: Joplin Wrestling

By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Imagine walking into this situation: You’re a wrestling coach of a program that competes in the Central Ozark Conference and, at the end of your first year, only 17 wrestlers are still on the roster.

That was the reality facing Joplin High School’s Jeremy Finley four years ago.

But through determination – including recruiting the hallways – look what’s happened.

“We have seen our numbers increase every year since I have been at Joplin,” said Finley, now in his fourth season. “My first year, we finished the season with 17 kids. Last year, we finished with 48. I think the reason behind this is kids want to be a part of something successful, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here at Joplin.”

Finley anticipates having 50 wrestlers at the start of the season, and the depth will be important in the COC, home to a number of quality programs.

That figure includes eight returning starters – one who qualified for the state tournament.

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Projected roster

The projected roster calls for sophomore Sam Melton (120), junior Alex Short (126), Landyn Midcap (132), Johnathan Burke (138) and sophomore Hadlee Dixon (145).

In the upper weights, look for seniors Jack Stanley (152) and Aiden Short (160), followed by juniors Draven VanGilder (170 and Drew VanGilder (182) and then three seniors – Brayden Thomas (195), Dawson Phillips (220) and Gunner Price (285).

“Sam has put in all the necessary work it takes to be successful in wrestling, in the weight room and in the wrestling room,” Finley said. “He was our state qualifier last year, and we’re looking at big things from Sam this year.”

Price could be one to watch, too.

“Gunner is a tough kid who loves to compete,” Finley said. “He has come a long way since his freshman year. He’s a defensive tackle on the football team and loves contact. When the light shines the brightest, we see the best of Gunner Price. That’s probably the thing we love the most about him.”

Sleepers?

Asked if his team has any sleepers, Finley had an interesting reply.

“I think a sleeper is our team as a whole,” Finley said. “We are looking to turn the corner a little bit in our very competitive conference. Our kids have worked hard in the offseason.”

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Goals

To keep its upward trend, Joplin made sure not to plop on the couch all offseason.

Finley knows that first-hand. He is a former wrestler himself. He competed for Chanute (Kan.) High School, Neosho Community College and Central Missouri State. He was at Carl Junction as head coach from 2009 to 2015 before stepping away, considering he had a young family.

“We held our own camp this last summer and brought in some notable names of the sport to help our kids,” Finley said. “We also held a youth camp as well. We had great participation, and we thought the kids had a great time and learned quite a bit.”

That said, Finley knows results will matter, ultimately, toward the growth of the program.

“This is crucial for us at Joplin, not only to get them in the room but to keep them there,” Finley said.

Girls wrestling

Joplin has three notable girls wrestlers in sophomore Ericka Washom, senior Riley Ward, freshman Coryaunna Mueller and junior Zoe Newman.

“Washom is a sectional qualifier and should be ready to take the next step and compete at the state tournament this year,” Finley said.

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