If Harrisonville wanted to enjoy the same success wrestling in Class 3 that it had in Class 2, coach Eric DeVenney knew one thing that would help: Beef up the Wildcats’ schedule.
“We’ve been able to get more matches where we see Belton, see those Nebraska teams,” DeVenney said. “Having that strength of schedule has helped us out.”
It also helps to have a resurgence of depth in the room and a core of veterans to lead them. As Harrisonville prepares for the postseason — which begins with this weekend’s Class 3, District 4 tournament at Winnetonka — the Wildcats feel like they not only survived the grueling schedule, but became better for it.
“It boosts your confidence and helps you get ready,” Harrisonville senior Braden Danner said. “Once you get up there to state, those guys they don’t like to mess around. Competing with the high level now helps you out in the long run at state.”
The Wildcats moved up from Class 2 after the 2014 season, and DeVenney said it’s taken some time to adjust to the higher level of competition. He thought his team needed more matches against big-school wrestlers, so he entered them in the always-tough Columbia Hickman, North Kansas City and Liberty tournaments.
Not only did Harrisonville have finalists in all three, it also won the team championship at NKC — and that’s on top of compiling a 13-4 dual record good, which was good for fourth place in the Missouri River Valley Conference.
“I think it makes everybody feel better about themselves,” Danner said. “If the whole team can compete at the higher-level tournament, then we all feel good and not just individual people.”
Danner, a three-time state qualifier, heads up a trio of wrestlers who have driven Harrisonville’s success. He’s 43-3 this season and ranked No. 2 in Class 3 at 170 pounds.
Danner, who placed second at state as a freshman and fourth each of the past two seasons, owns the Wildcats’ career record for pins after recording his 106th fall during the Missouri River Valley Conference tournament.
Nick Kruse, who is also a senior, is 42-3 at ranked No. 2 at 220 pounds. He won individual titles at Northtown, Liberty and the conference meet, while Sam East, a junior, is 36-4 and ranked No. 3 at 182 pounds.
“We’ve had good senior leaders on the team,” DeVenney said. “Those guys have helped push the other guys to cultivate a winning attitude.”
DeVenney has also had more depth this year, with competitors in just about every weight class. But Danner, who worked out year-round preparing for his senior season, said the biggest difference has been the attitude from top to bottom.
“Everybody flipped a switch this year and just got real serious about it,” Danner said. “When the higher-level guys are serious about it, the younger guys who look up to them do the same thing. It carries throughout the whole room.”
Danner hopes it also carries through this weekend as the Wildcats face a very difficult district that includes top-ranked Kearney as well as traditional powerhouses Belton, Grain Valley, Smithville and Platte County — all of whom placed in the top six in last year’s state meet.
The top four individuals in each weight class will advance to the state meet Feb. 15-17 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“Our district is just grotesquely tough,” DeVenney said. “There are so many variables that right now my focus for each and every one of them is to be the best you can be in that first match and keep progressing from there.”