“There are a lot of kids who did a lot of things well last year, and I’m expecting them to do well this year, too,” he said.
With the potential for a good distribution over the 14 weight classes, O’Hare said this year’s team should continue its strong tradition in dual meets, where Hillsboro has compiled a 25-1 record over the past two seasons.
“We have a lot of the core back,” O’Hare said. “If we can get everybody settled into weight, I think we’ll be a pretty strong duals team again.”
Yoder to compete
Hillsboro’s five state qualifiers form the nucleus of that core, and the most battle-tested competitor of the five is senior Jacob Yoder. The two-time state qualifier rolled up a 31-7 record last year.
Yoder’s participation is an unexpected bonus, following the dislocated shoulder he suffered midway through the football season.
“It was a decision he and his parents made, along with a lot of discussion with me,” O’Hare said. “We decided (reinjury) may not happen, but it may. We’ll let it go and see.”
The shoulder will require surgery after the season anyway, O’Hare said. The hope of keeping the shoulder in place through the wrestling season is a “a day-to-day, moment-to-moment deal.”
Yoder will wear a specially designed brace when he competes. O’Hare said he and Yoder have been working in practice on techniques and strategies designed to protect the shoulder.
“He’s athletic enough and strong enough that we can make some adjustments to the way he’s doing things,” O’Hare said. “It’s not quite like starting over, but it’s learning a lot of new things so we can put him in positions where he can reduce the strain on that shoulder.”
O’Hare said the start of practice has given them additional optimism about Yoder’s ability to compete.
“The first couple of times we went live in practice, we kind of held off on him a little bit to see what bothered (the shoulder) and what didn’t,” O’Hare said. “Toward the end of last week, he was doing some live wrestling and was looking good.”
Four additional qualifiers
Also returning as state qualifiers for HHS are fellow seniors Alex Jost and Grady Stultz, and juniors Nicholas Mueller and Tyler Jones.
Jost posted a 16-19 record a year ago, but made it to state for the first time in his career at 103 pounds.
“Last year was a real breakout year for him, qualifying for state,” O’Hare said. “It was a big step getting him there. Hopefully, he’ll be a little bit more prepared and he can get back there this year and do a little better there.
“We’re still undecided whether he’s going to be wrestling at 112 or 119,” he added. “He’s looked real sharp in practice so far.”
Stultz, a Goessel High participant, was 25-19 last year and qualified for state at 152 pounds. O’Hare said Stultz likely will compete in the same weight class this year.
“Although his record last year wasn’t overly impressive, he lost a lot of matches early to mid season,” O’Hare said. “By late in the year, he was wrestling pretty solid.”
Jones, meanwhile, had more victories than any other Trojan last year with his 32-9 record. He went to state at 140 pounds, but will step up one class to 145 this season.
“He had a really nice season,” O’Hare said. “He had nine losses, but five of them were to the same kid (Darrell Melcher) over at Herington. But Tyler won one match at state and then lost one in overtime.”
Mueller, one of the brightest spots on the squad, is coming off a 31-7 season and a 1-2 record at state as a sophomore competing at 130 pounds.
“He had one of the better sophomore seasons we’ve had out of a wrestler here,” O’Hare said. “Five of his seven losses were to kids who placed at state last year, so he wasn’t losing to a lot of slouches. I look for him to put together a pretty good season. It looks like he’s going to move up one weight class to 135.”
The other athletes on the Trojan squad of 24 who return with varsity experience are:
• sophomore Jared King, who competed last at 125 but will compete for a spot in the lineup at 145 this year. “I anticipate having a challenge match at the 140 spot between him and (junior) Lonnie Benda,” O’Hare said. “Jared certainly has years of experience on Lonnie, but Lonnie really came on last year in JV. I’ve got two pretty good kids who can battle for that one spot.”
• senior Zach Jost, who had a 13-3 junior varsity record with a couple of varsity victories at 152 pounds and will compete at 160 this year.
“Last year he got in behind a couple of those state qualifiers and never really broke the varsity lineup last year,” O’Hare said. “Zach’s looked real good in practice so far.”
• senior Frankie Martin, who will move up to 171 this season after wrestling at 160 a year ago.
• junior John Hein, who will move up to 215 after competing at 189 last year.
• senior CJ Shaw will wrestle at 285 this year after a two-year absence from the sport. “That will fill in the big-boy spot that we haven’t had since his brother graduated,” O’Hare said.
That combination of wrestlers, plus a couple of freshmen competing for varsity time at some of the lighter weights, should give the Trojans a competitor in every weight class except one or two. O’Hare said he isn’t expecting to fill the 103-pound slot this season, and it remains to be seen whether Jost or freshman Aaron Bina will battle at 112 or 119 pounds.
“(Bina) is just a freshman this year, but he has a lot of years of wrestling experience under his belt,” O’Hare said. “I think he’d have a pretty decent year if he can get down to 112 for us. If one of those two can get down, they’ll probably split 112 and 119.”
“I look at the strength of our lineup being from 135 on up,” O’Hare said. “I feel pretty good that we have a lot of our returning guys looking like they should be able to get spread out between weight classes and that we have quite a bit of varsity experience there.”
As a team, Hillsboro’s competitive strength is well-suited for success in duals, but O’Hare says several individuals should do well in tournament competition, too.
“I think we have a fair number of kids who are going to not just get in the medals at tournaments, but are championship-round quality kids for us,” he said. “Nicholas Mueller made the finals of every tournament last year except for state. Jacob Yoder made the finals of all but one tournament last year. Tyler Jones placed in all but one tournament last year.”
For the second year in a row, the Mid-Central Activities Association won’t be having a varsity league tournament, but O’Hare said he expects Hoisington, Smoky Valley and Marion to join his squad as the top teams in the MCAA as they hook up in dual competitions.
“I think those are going to be the teams we’ll have to contend with if we’re going to win the league,” he said. “I certainly think we can be in the mix of it.”
Hillsboro will open its season Thursday, Nov. 29, at Lindsborg, where all four of those teams will gather for a double-dual format. Matches will begin at 4:30 p.m.
Hillsboro will host varsity dual meets on Jan. 3 and 17, with both beginning at 5:30 p.m. HHS will host a junior varsity tournament Dec. 15.