Jaycee Foeller, John Brown

De Soto’s Jaycee Foeller listens to advice from head coach John Brown before wrestling for the District 1 championship at 167 pounds in February.

Now her goal is to stay there.

The De Soto junior won the state championship at 167 pounds, pinning Lafayette junior Josette Partney in the second period. Everything about Foeller’s prior experience wrestling against boys  and at the national level pointed to that outcome.

Head coach John Brown said no one has worked harder to repeat.

“She’s developing new ways of doing things,” Brown said. “She should have a great year again. She knows the competition will be tougher.”

For the sake of the rest of the state, it better be, because Foeller was almost untouchable last season with a record of 35-0.

Foeller’s sidekick in the De Soto wrestling room is senior Hunter Bullock. A district champion like Foeller, Bullock wrestled at state at 131, had a first-round bye and was pinned by Marcelin junior Baylee Jobson in the second period. Bullock was knocked out in the second round of wrestlebacks by Ste. Genevieve junior Genevieve Nickelson.

“She looks really good in practice,” Brown said. “I can tell she worked out quite a bit. We’ve got to work mentally with the competition.”

De Soto senior Landon Porter is a two-time state medal winner at 285. Even though the girls and boys wrestle separately, Porter and Foeller are both Dragons.

“I was on the floor when she was wrestling. I was the first one to congratulate and hug her after she won,” Porter said.

Brown said the Dragons doubled the girls’ squad from four to eight.

“I believe the progression of girls wrestling will improve throughout the future,” he said.

Porter has given his heart and soul to the De Soto football and wrestling teams. He was rewarded this fall as a first-team selection to both lines on the all-Mississippi Area Football Conference Red Division team.

On the mat, Porter finished second in 2018 and fourth in 2019 and qualified for state as a freshman. He gains weight during football season to help his body absorb the pounding from onrushing ball carriers and offensive and defensive linemen. Then he has to shed it to be ready to grapple with some of the strongest athletes in the state during the winter.

Porter signed with McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill. to wrestle. He probably could have signed to play college football too. McKendree is about 25 miles east of St. Louis so Porters’ family will get to see his home matches.

“There was some interest for football and I definitely thought about it,” he said. “Choosing

(McKendree) helps because I won’t come out of college with a lot of debt.”

Only one goal remains for Porter as a prep athlete: a state wrestling title. After losing 4-3 in an ultimate tiebreaker to eventual state champion David Toese in the semifinals, Porter was kicked to the third-place match against Cody Imbierowicz of St. Charles. Porter lost a 1-0 decision in that match to finish fourth. He’s won 117 matches in his career.

“He’s going to be Landon Porter,” Brown said. “He knows how to win and he’s a smart wrestler.”

Aside from Porter, four other De Soto wrestlers return after qualifying for state last season. Brown said there are some holes in his roster, especially in the lower weight classes, but his “Fab Five” of seniors will go a long way in helping the Dragons maintain their dominance in the Jefferson County Activities Association where they’ve won the last six titles.

Connor Zimmermann is close to wrestling for a medal. Zimmermann was 1-2 at state at 138 last year and he has as much talent as anyone in the Dragons’ room. He’s moved up two weight classes to 152 and the two-time state qualifier has won 60 matches the last two seasons. His older brother, Logan, finished fourth in the state at 170 in 2019.

“Connor’s really developed into a leader for us,” Brown said. “He’s very slick and loves the sport. To me he never saw his brother as a shadow. He’s got a great attitude and is a fun kid to be around.”

Seniors Kenny Coates (113), Kamren Brooks (160) and Chase Greenlee (195) were the Dragons’ other state qualifiers last season. Coates might stay at last year’s weight or move to 120. Brooks is solid at 160 again and Greenlee has dropped a class to 182 right now.

“They all had really good years. Just getting to state is an accomplishment,” Brown said. “I hope they all place. They have the talent to do it. I’m glad they’re out and they’re good competitors.

“We’re going to be young in a lot of areas. We have fun kids to coach. As far as a lineup for dual meets, we’re not going to be that team. Right now, I’m looking at three holes in my lineup. The young kids will be put in sparingly.”

Pauli leads Owls on mat

Senior Grant Pauli has been to the Class 3 state championships all three seasons he’s wrestled at Windsor.

All that remains for Pauli to accomplish is to win a state title. Pauli has a career record of 125-24 and won a fourth-place medal at 145 pounds in 2018. Last season, he didn’t make it to the medal round after losing by disqualification in the third round of wrestlebacks to Smithville’s Ryan Hampton, who finished third.

Pauli begins the season at 160 pounds and is tied for seventh in school history in wins.

Junior Luke Longtin was Windsor’s other state qualifier last season. Longtin reached Columbia at 152 and after a first-round loss, he beat Fort Zumwalt South’s Nicholas Genovese with an 8-6 sudden victory. Longtin’s pursuit of a medal ended in the second round of wrestlebacks.

Junior Chris Butts was a state qualifier as a freshman at 160, but didn’t make it back in 2019. Butts and senior Austin Henry (160) are vying to be the top wrestler for the Owls at 195.

Sophomore Alex Weatherly (106, 113), senior Connor Meynell (126), sophomore Tyler Perry (132), junior Seth Winkelmann (138), junior Dominic Pona (160), senior Seif Elkhashab (195) and junior Dante Reigle (285) are Windsor’s top contenders by weight class.

“The expectations are high as we get a few kids back in the lineup who were missing last season for one reason or another,” said Ryan Bollinger, who enters his second season as head coach and fifth with the program. “We look to put a solid product out on the mat and compete hard this season.”

Junior Reilly Baughman had several years of experience wrestling before the girls branched out on their own. Baughman qualified for state last season at 110. She reached the third round of wrestlebacks before being pinned by Carrollton’s Aiva Meyer, who finished fourth. Baughman’s record last year was 15-6.

“Although we didn’t gain as many numbers as we’d hoped, we did increase from two girls to four so far,” Bollinger said. “I believe we will keep growing our numbers every season as we keep getting the word out.”

Four state qualifiers return for Hawks this season

Hillsboro senior James Short has qualified for the Class 3 state tournament in his first three years. Short has 115 career wins and could move into the top five for the Hawks before the 2019-2020 season ends in February.

After qualifying for state at 106 as a freshman and 120 as a sophomore, Short made it at 126 last season. He reached the medal stand in 2019 with a sixth-place finish. He’s expected to wrestle either at 132 or 138 this season.

Sophomore Dalton Litzsinger bolted out of the gates his freshman year with a record of 44-2. Both of his losses were by two points at 120 pounds at state. He should fill in at 132 or 138 this  year.

Juniors Aiden Haggard (113) and Zach McNees (182) are Hillsboro’s other two returning qualifiers. Haggard was 26-20 and could be at 113 or 120 and McNees was 30-17 and is projected at 182 again.

Senior John Moseley returns to the team after taking last year off and he will be at 170 or 182.

“He’s a solid wrestler for us and looks to qualify for state this year for the first time,” Hillsboro head coach Matt Mitchell said.

“We are a very young team. We only have a handful of seniors and juniors in the whole program. We will experience some growing pains with our younger kids, but they are working hard to make the varsity lineup and getting ready to compete in our tough schedule.”

Freshmen looking to make their mark this year are Evan Morris (120, 126), Gavin Alexander (106, 113), Blake Jackson (106, 113) and Griffin Ray (126, 132).

None of Hillsboro’s girls reached state last year. Mitchell said it’s great the state has given them an option to wrestle among themselves.

“It’s growing around the state and that’s fun to watch,” he said. “Our numbers have stayed about the same as last year and our girls are working really hard in the practice room. They all have at least one year of experience and they know a little better what to expect.”

Mika Barciszewski won two matches at districts last year and is expected to be at 116. Joey Madding also won a pair of district matches and could be at 110.

Football coach rebuilding wrestling team

Cody Hunter just wrapped up his second season as the Herculaneum football head coach.

Now Hunter begins his first year coaching the school’s wrestlers.

“I know that wrestling was a force back in the 1990s and 2000s here at Herculaneum,” Hunter said.

The Blackcats’ standing at the state level seems to have shrunk to the point their only state qualifier last season was omitted from the MSHSAA bracket book. Justin Montgomery, a 2019 graduate, qualified for the Class 1 tournament at 182. Montgomery won a match before falling out in the second round of wrestlebacks.

As the new season approaches, Hunter has a wrestler at every weight class, except for 132. The Blackcats’ lineup is as follows: Lucas Bach (106), Hunter Meyers and C.J. Asinger (113), Josh Hurt (120), Dalton Castens (126), Logan Petri (138), Tristen Watson (145), Aaron Payne (152), James Dixon (160), Devin Hagan (170), Nick Horner and Taylor Simpson (182), Richard Laderchi (195), Chance Jenkins (220) and Christian McCline (285).

“I would like to keep the kids out and improve our competitive level in every meet we go to,” Hunter said. “It is my goal to get as many kids to the district meet in order to take them to state. I want to make wrestling a sport at our school that is something kids want to do again.”

The Blackcats have one girl, Julie Britton, on the varsity and one in junior high.

Tigers have new head coach

After three years assisting Tom McFarland as the Festus wrestling coach, Jason Nahlik takes over the top spot for the Tigers.

Nahlik is in command of a team that finished second in the JCAA last year, the highest ever for Festus. But without a middle school program to grow the varsity, the new coach thinks it could be a rough year.

“We have a very young team while most of our athletes have none or one year of experience,” Nahlik said. “We have five seniors of which only two have more than two years of experience. Even though we are a young team, my coaches and I have been very impressed with how committed and hard our new wrestlers have been working. I expect us to come out swinging.”

Dillon French (106) and junior Justin Shaver (152) qualified for state last season. French won 37 matches before falling out in the second round of wrestlebacks. French was old enough to wrestle on the varsity in eighth grade and has wrestled for four years, making him ineligible his senior year. Shaver returns at 170 after winning 33 matches a year ago. Shaver was not pinned last year.

The other top Festus boys grapplers are Andrew Nahlik (120), the coach’s son, Jordan Banks (182) and Justus Labrayere (195).

“We have been challenging our wrestlers to be aggressive and physical with our opponents,” Jason Nahlik said. “We will need our leaders, like Luke, Jordan, Justus and Andrew, to set the tone and continue to be good examples in the practice room and on the mat.”

The Festus girls’ team doubled from three to six wrestlers this season. The Tigers didn’t have a state qualifier last year. Kirsten Klein (110) and Lindsay Mills (126) are their top two girls.

“I wish it was progressing more, but I think there is still some apprehension amongst some that still think it is just a sport for the boys,” Nahlik said. “Therefore, they’re unwilling to give it a try.”