Already halfway through the season, the Carthage wrestling squad still hasn’t been able to compete in front of a home crowd.
That changes this evening, when the Tigers host Nevada in their first home dual.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to wrestle at home for once,” Carthage head coach Kenny Brown said Wednesday.
What Carthage fans have missed as the team has traveled is another really good Tigers wrestling squad. Carthage has only lost one dual match, which came against Ozark, the No. 2 team in the state, and the Tigers have taken first place in one tournament and finished second in two others.
“Honestly, it’s going about as good as we could have expected,” Brown said. “There are definitely a few matches here and there we would have liked to win that we let get away from us. Considering the adversity the team’s had to face with injuries and kids being out here and there, we’ve done very, very well.”
Brown said his wrestlers are progressing and getting better. Mistakes common early in the season are disappearing, and technique is improving.
“Now it’s just a matter of making it where our technique is second hand, just muscle memory so they don’t have to stop and think about it,” he said. “That’s the one place where some of our wrestlers need to work. They know what they’re supposed to do, but they don’t always hit it near as quick as they need to because they’re still stopping to think about what they should be doing. That just comes with more and more mat time.”
The Springfield Holiday tournament was the scene of Carthage’s peak performance to date. It wasn’t just the success on the mat that pleased Brown, though.
“In that tournament the kids realized the team aspect of the sport,” he said. “As they are wrestling, they’re congratulating each other on not just winning a match, but getting a major decision instead of a decision to get more points, get the bonus points. The kids really noticed the team aspect of it much more. Okay you won, but now we need to win and we need to win big. That’s what you need to make a run at a district championship.”
At least five wrestlers have lost three or fewer matches so far this year. Junior Trevor Feagans, wrestling at 132 pounds, stands at 21-0 and is ranked third in Class 3 after becoming just the 19th wrestler in Carthage history to reach 100 career wins. Junior Gage Gartner is 18-3 and ranked eighth at 120 pounds, senior Taylor Bogle is 13-2 and ranked sixth at 126 pounds, senior Larry Swinehart is 24-2 at 160 pounds and junior Oliver Sprenkle has won seven of 10 matches at 285.
Page 2 of 3 - “Larry Swinehart has been very, very dominant,” Brown said. “He’s leading the team in pins. He’s another one where when he gets on top he’s a force to be reckoned with. He’s very, very tough and his offense has improved dramatically over last year from the neutral position. Larry has definitely stood out.
“Taylor Bogle is another who has stood out,” Brown said. “He’s doing much better on expanding his offense to include a couple more attacks, which makes him much more dangerous than he was last year. Trevor (Feagans) obviously has done very well. Gage Gartner is another having a very good year. He’s injured right now, he got injured in practice, so we’ll hold him out for a little while. He’s lost only three all year, which is a vast improvement over last year. Last season he was stuck on junior varsity. He’s really seizing the opportunity he’s got this year.”
Sophomore River Maggard has also stepped up to provide the team with needed depth.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Brown said. “He’s wrestled at 126 pounds and at 132 pounds for us. He’s been a big part of our team in the fact that we’ve had a JV wrestler who stepped in to take second place at two tournaments. He’s stepped in and wrestled some really good kids very well in duals. That’s been a pleasant surprise and it’s really helped us having that depth.”
The only bad thing about getting off to a hot start like the Tigers have is the fact that few have witnessed it. That will hopefully begin to change today, when Carthage hosts Nevada at 6 p.m., and the Tigers will also host Webb City on Jan. 24, McDonald County and Marshfield on Jan. 26 and Seneca on Feb. 2.
“That’s one thing that’s kind of stunk about the season so far,” Brown said. “We’ve been doing very well, and yet a lot of the kids at the school don’t have a clue because we haven’t had anything at home. Next year we’ll have a lot of them at home.”
Still, in keeping with the same theme all year, most of Carthage’s biggest matches in the next two months will take place on the road. There’s the Black and Blue Brawl with Neosho on Jan. 17, which Brown said he circled at the beginning of the season.
Carthage will also travel to the Platte County Tournament on Jan. 20.
“It’s a very tough tournament,” Brown said. “One weight class I know has three state champs and two runners up. It’s a very difficult tournament. I’ve never been to it and Carthage has never been to it, so I want to have a good showing there because I would like to be invited back. They tend to kick poor teams out.”
Page 3 of 3 - Brown also points out the Central Ozarks Tournament on Jan. 28, which could go a long way in helping Carthage High School earn the all boys title among conference schools.
“The better we do there the more we help our whole team out,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy because you’ve got Neosho and Ozark who are both very good, and Nixa who is good as well. I think we can be in the two, three, four range, possibly even win it if we get some help from places and we’re healthy.”
Of course, the district tournament looms on Feb. 10, but for now, Brown and the Tigers are just happy to be at home.