By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nearly half of last year’s roster was filled by freshmen – 13 of 32 – for the McDonald County wrestling team. Of the 11 Mustangs who wrestled in the district tournament, six were ninth graders.
It’s little surprise, then, that McDonald County will be a “very young” team this winter.
“That’s for sure,” head coach Josh Factor said. “We have just two seniors that are coming back for us this year as returning wrestlers. One of them right now is battling an offseason injury and we’re hoping to get him back at some point before the district tournament.”
The Mustangs had two state qualifiers last season, both of them medalists, and both gone to graduation this year. Oscar Ortiz finished as the state runner up at 132 pounds and went 46-7 overall; he was the 113-pound champion in Class 3 in 2018 and earned four state medals in his career. Jack Teague finished third last year at 152 pounds and was 47-6. He was a three-time qualifier.
“Jack Teague is probably what I would say the highlight of our season, just coming from being a two-time returning qualifier to finally making his way up on the podium,” Factor said. “I think he had all of his wins come by fall, including his third-place match with the 22-second fall. Oscar Ortiz didn’t exactly have the finish he wanted after winning the district the week before. It was a tough finish for him. Obviously we would have liked to see him cap off his high school career with another state championship. Sometimes it doesn’t always work that way.”
Two seniors will lead the program this winter: Jordan Meador and Ryan Donica. Meador has the most varsity experience. He went 17-13 last and wrestled at 138 pounds.
“He’s battled a lot of injuries in his high school career so we’re hoping to get him back there,” Factor said. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to compete at the state tournament but he’s one that has definitely helped us in our program.”
Donica was at 126 last year and finished 12-14. He could return at the same weight this season or could bump up to 132.
“He was a JV wrestler for us last year and I think that says a lot about the younger talent we have on the team with some of our wrestlers coming back as sophomores that he had to compete for time in those spots,” Factor said.
Blaine Ortiz, a sophomore, won 23 matches and had a winning record last season at 106 pounds. He came up one win short of qualifying for state. What weight he wrestles at this winter remains to be seen, but Factor said he has “high hopes” for him.
Another sophomore who could impress is Levi Smith, who won 31 matches last year and wrestled at 120 pounds. He also suffered a loss in the bubble round at the district tournament. Factor said he could wrestle anywhere from 126 to 138.
“Both of those kids have a tremendous amount of potential to do well for us this year,” Factor said. “It just all comes down to getting the job done when it counts in the postseason.”
The Mustangs have two other sophomores on the roster with some varsity experience. Cross Spencer wrestled at 126 pounds as a freshman and competed in 38 bouts. And Colter Vick was 14-12 while bouncing between 138 and 152.
Junior Alberto Valdez also saw varsity action at 182 pounds. He wrestled in 31 bouts.
“We’re hoping just with the varsity experience that some of those younger guys have they can have a breakout year,” Factor said.
A pair of newcomers could help fill out the lineup in the upper weights. Jayce Hitt is a freshman who could wrestle at 220 or heavyweight and Samuel Murphy is another freshman who could wrestle at 195 or 220.
“Both of them did well at the youth level but obviously they have a lot to prove making that transition into high school wrestling,” Factor said.
Factor said the Mustangs could struggle to fill the three weight classes between 160 and 220, but said “we should be pretty full in our other weights.
“It’s just going to be one of those things where we’re going to be happy to fill all 14 weight classes on the boys side at this point in time and with our girls program we’re just looking to build our numbers and get a girls team started this year.”
McDonald County started last season with 10 girls on the roster but only two finished the season. Both were seniors wrestling for the first time.
Freshman Jaslyn Benhumea has been one bright spot after wrestling in the junior high program last season at 98 pounds. She’s helped with recruiting other wrestlers and generating interest, Factor said, and as a result he hopes to have close to 10 girls on the roster this winter.
“We’ve got a handful of other girls who have shown interest,” he said. “We’re just hoping to get our girls program established and hopefully get them to finish off the season and compete when districts roll around.”