By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
At the end of last season, as they walked out of the state tournament, the wrestlers of McDonald County High School were left thinking about what might have been.
Yes, they should have kept their heads up. All in all, it was a nice season. Eight boys qualified for state. However, only two came home with hardware.
Call it fuel for the season ahead.
Said coach Josh Factor, “There was definitely a wave of dissatisfaction that swept through our wrestlers after last year’s state tournament, and many of them have their minds set on reaching the podium for the first time, if not winning a state title.”
The Mustangs anticipate having 40 wrestlers, boys and girls combined, at the start of the season. On the boys side, that includes 10 returning starters, including all eight state qualifiers – two who were state medalists.
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The projected roster could be freshman Kaden Price (106), Jose Mendoza (113), sophomore Michael Owens (120), Ayden Ball and senior Jacob Owens at 126, junior Blaine Ortiz (132), junior Cross Spencer (138), and junior Levi Smith (145).
In the upper weights, look for sophomore Alexis Molina-Cruz (152), junior Colter Vick (160), junior Juan Morales and senior Alberto Valdez at 170, freshmen Alex Bogart and Gunner Cook at 182, freshmen Malosi Sosef and Cole Thomas at 195, sophomore Samuel Murphy and junior Lalynd Stauber at 220, and sophomore Jayce Hill and freshman Jagger Pickle at 285.
Ortiz was the Class 3 state runner-up at 113 pounds last season. He also won the district, sectional and Big 8 Conference.
“Blaine has worked his tail off since March and has gotten a lot stronger than he was coming into last year’s season, his leadership and experience coming into this season is going to play a big role in how our team competes on the big stage,” Factor said. “After making his first trip to the state finals as a sophomore last season, he continues to improve, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity he has this year.”
Smith was a state qualifier at 132 pounds after being the sectional and district runner-up.
“Levi has continued to improve as a wrestler, and his commitment to the sport has been a big part of that,” Factor said. “After his first trip to the state tournament last March, he has been on a mission to make a name for himself. We look forward to seeing his leadership help carry this team to a different level when February arrives.”
Murphy placed fourth at state at 220 pounds after placing third in sectionals and the Big 8 Conference. He was the district runner-up. He then was third in the Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and seventh in freestyle and sixth in Greco-Roman at Fargo.
“He should have a great opportunity to battle for his first state title at 220 as a sophomore,” Factor said.
Hill was a state qualifier at 285 pounds after being the runner-up at sectionals, following fourth-place finishes at the district and conference tournaments. He also competed in Fargo in both styles, and was on the 16-and-younger All-Tournament team in freestyle at the 16U National Duals.
“He should have an interesting year as a sophomore,” Factor said.
It stands to reason that McDonald County learned a lot from last year. While it was sixth in the Big 8 Conference, it placed fourth as a team in district but then 19th at state.
Factor has built a nice program there. This is his 13th year as head coach, and 18th overall at McDonald County.
His staff includes former Kansas three-time state medalist and four-time NAIA Tournament qualifier Alan Callahan. Also assisting are former wrestlers Daniel Sumler and Andrew Miller as well as Oscar Ortiz and Jack Teague. Ortiz was a four-time state medalist (2018 state champion), and Teague was a three-time state qualifier.
Asked what kind of season he projects, Factor urged some caution.
“It’s too early to answer this right now, but we like to think, if our guys are healthy come February, this could be our highest team finish as a Class 3 team,” Factor said.
This marks the third year that McDonald County will have a girls program.
There are three returning starters in sophomores Jaslyn Benhumea (102), Stacy Apolinar-Lopez (143) and Gisel Aragon (159).
Benhumea placed third at districts and was the runner-up in the Big 8 Conference. Apolinar-Lopez placed third at the conference tournament, and Aragon was fourth t districts and third at the Big 8 Conference.
“We are hoping to add to the numbers in our girls program,” Factor said.