For more than a decade, Jeff Davis has seen the Park Hill wrestling team turn into one of the top high school programs in Missouri. He has watched the progression from afar while coaching at Waynesville, Mo., where he competed for the same Missouri Class 4 state championship as the Trojans.
Park Hill won that championship last March. Waynesville placed sixth.
A year later, Davis has joined the winning side. He was hired to replace longtime Trojans coach Bill Erneste, who stepped down after 15 years to take over as the Park Hill athletics director.
The transition to Park Hill has been a smooth one for Davis. The Trojans are again the top-ranked team in Missouri Class 4.
“I was lucky enough to keep a staff in place that’s been here for a number of years,” Davis said. “A lot of the communication is the same. We pretty much just try to keep things rolling like they have been.”
His wrestlers have taken on a similar mindset.
Park Hill has welcomed back returning Class 4 state champions Sean Hosford, Ke-Shawn Hayes and Colston DiBlasi. All three are ranked among the favorites to compete for a second consecutive individual wrestling title. William Erneste and Canton Marriott are also back after having placed third in their respective weight classes.
That gives a first-year coach plenty to like.
“They’re our leaders,” Davis said. “They do a good job of setting the example of how to do the right things. That sets the tone for our team.”
Of course, the new job doesn’t come without its share of pressure, which Davis recognizes. On a team that returns five state semifinalists, the goals are high.
“I think the expectation here is that we want to compete for championships every year. The kids and the coaches believe that,” Davis said. “There are kids here who are extremely dedicated, and they feed off each other.”
The state championships remain five weeks away, slated for Feb. 20-22 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, although it’s never too early to start preparing. Over the next couple of weeks, Park Hill will begin to shorten its practices but increase the intensity of the sessions — all part of training for the postseason.
“We’re starting to game plan for athletes that we think we’re going to see down the road,” Davis said. “It’s going to get a little more intense next week as we start to peak. We’ve done pretty well already, but we want to be hitting all cylinders in the next couple of weeks.”