SIKESTON - With one returning wrestler that qualified for the state meet last year, the Sikeston Bulldogs appear to be in for a long year.
Not so fast.
Even with Adam Miller, last year's qualifier, Bulldog head coach Chris Hodgkiss is as optimistic as ever with his 2001-2001 team.
Also back out of the team is senior Cleveland Anthony, a state qualifier as a sophomore and nine other returning starters from last year's 4-5-1 dual record team.
"Out of the 14 weight classes, it's always encouraging when you return that many starters," said Hodgkiss, now in his third year as head coach. "I have a lot higher expectations for this team. A lot of my seniors have been wrestling varsity since they were freshmen and sophomores. They may have taken a year or two of getting beat up, so now they've been through that experience and it's their turn to give some of that back."
The Bulldogs have seven seniors on the team but only two juniors. That means Hodgkiss will be counting on several underclassmen to contribute this year.
"Right now we have three freshmen that are starting on varsity," said Hodgkiss. "We've got a well-balanced team. There's not too many older guys or younger guys -- we've got a good mix of talent."
The Bulldogs expect to get some good senior leadership out of co-captains Scott Heuiser (189) and Justin Keller (140) this season.
"The team voted them the captains and deservedly so," said Hodgkiss. "Those two are good leaders, they work hard in practice and I expect them to lead by example."
Seniors that are expected to start are Anthony (130), Jonathan Cartner (145), Jackie Cowley (152) and Stuart Carraway (215).
Junior Jeremy Freeman (103) along with Miller (119) will start, and sophomores that are looking sharp are Kyle Weeks (125), Cody Weeks (135) and Scotty Keenan (160).
The three freshmen that have starting nods right now are Joe Johnson (heavyweight), Ross Merideth (171) and Cody Ryan (112).
"The program is going the direction that we want it to," said Hodgkiss. "Each year, we've gotten better numbers wise. We're getting more and more kids out and the more you get out the more you get to pick from. That's when you'll start seeing success. We've even had a problem with three or four kids in one weight class so we have to shift them out to another class. And those are the problems that I like to have. I like to have too many kids where I have to make sure my No. 1 guy is in there."
One senior that could make a move is J.T. Myrick, who will either wrestle 152 or 160.
Others that will vie for a spot on the varsity are sophomores Kirk Butler (152), Shawn Cooper (112), Andy Croxford (189), Josh Holmes (119) and Tony Reynolds (145). Freshmen include Derris Butler (140), Travis Cummins (125), Max Hansen (112), Daniel Klimmek (130), Cullen Looney (152), Shay May (135) and Kyle Rodgers (215).
"Right now, our two most important goals are a dual record of no less than 6-4 and we're looking to qualify five or six guys for the state competition," said Hodgkiss. "Those are goals that the team and I have set together and I think there's no doubt in our minds that we can reach both of those goals."
Once again Sikeston's schedule is brutal. The Bulldogs face off against the likes of Farmington, Ste. Genevieve and Jackson, who are among the top teams in the state in 3A and 4A.
Farmington, the two-time defending state champions, are ranked No. 1 again this year while Ste. Genevieve, which finished runner up last season, is ranked in the top five. Jackson took fourth in the state last year.
"I think one of the advantages that we have is that we wrestle some good teams," said Hodgkiss. "We have some tough dual meets and we also go to some tournaments with a number of top teams. Three of the top teams in the state are in our conference. I'm looking for us to improve throughout the entire year for that reason. The better competition you're going to wrestle, the better it's going to make you."