Many coaches are hesitant to use the term “rebuilding year,” but Pleasant Hill wrestling coach Jeff Wyatt embraces it.
With only two seniors and three returning state qualifiers back from a disappointing 2016-17 season, Wyatt realizes he has no choice.
“We’re not one of those schools that reloads every year,” he said. “Most Class 2 schools do feel that, every once in a while, you’ll just have a down year. It’s just the way it is.”
That’s not normally the way it is at Pleasant Hill, which usually can count on having a defending state champion or two in the room.
But last year was a down year for Roosters wrestling and, this year, Wyatt will have to rebuild with a fairly young roster.
“We had a lot of bad luck last year with injuries and we had some kids quit on us,” Wyatt said. “Everybody has just been real focused on the positives and getting back to what we were about, which is just coming in and outworking people and just being tough.”
Wyatt already can see the turnaround beginning with the 22 wrestlers he has in the room. It starts with an undisputed team leader in Chance Sullivan, one of the two seniors and a three-time state qualifier.
Sullivan, who is 10-1 after placing second in the 145-pound weight class during Pleasant Hill’s Steve Leslie Invitational last weekend, went 37-14 last year and reached the Class 2 126-pound state quarterfinals.
“He’s a very good leader,” Wyatt said. “He’s one of those program guys where, if the doors are open, he’s there. He’s the first one there, last one to go, working harder, getting the guys to step up their level.”
Since Pleasant Hill’s other senior, Chase Thompson, is in his first year with the varsity, Sullivan is the only experienced senior in the room, but he doesn’t feel the weight of the team is entirely on his shoulders. The Roosters’ two other returning state qualifiers, juniors Nolan Miller and Ryan Edenburn, also help guide the team.
“We’re doing pretty good,” said Sullivan, who lost a 10-6 decision against Brant Whitaker of Boonville in the 145 final. “The freshmen and the sophomores are really stepping up when they need to. We’ve had a good start to the season, so I think we’re doing pretty well.”
That start includes a third-place finish in the Steve Leslie Invitational, which featured 17 varsity and eight junior varsity teams. The Roosters’ 484 team points were only topped by Kirksville (530.5) and Chillicothe (497).
Besides Sullivan, Pleasant Hill also had finalists Gabe Hodge at 152 pounds and Miller (170). Hodge lost to Braeden Campbell of Summit Christian Academy 5-3 in the title bout, while Miller withdrew due to an injury against Evan Shetley of Sullivan in the 170 championships.
Edenburn placed fourth at 182 pounds, while the Roosters also had four other top-five finishes — David Rivera, third at 113; Cole Wood, fourth at 126; Tommy Riffle, fifth at 138; and Chase Thompson fifth at 160.
While it’s still early in the season, Wyatt said the tournament always serves as a good measuring stick for how his wrestlers are progressing.
“I treat December like our preseason,” Wyatt said. “Even though some of those matches do count for districts and district seeding, this is where we gauge where we’re at and get an idea of what level the guys are competing at, and identify our strengths and our weaknesses. That’s what we’re leaning heavily on right now.”
Campbell was one of two champions for Summit Christian. Trenton Holloway pinned Cole Petty of St. James in the 195 final and Brett Campbell beat Drake Ortiz of St. James 8-6 to win the 220 division.
Summit Christian placed 14th in the team standings with 257 points.