With a squad of only 16, second-year coach Ivan Robison is high on the wrestlers in the program, but, at the same time, disappointed in the turnout.
Some members of last year's team chose not to return and several have dropped out during preseason practice.
"But the attitude of those who are here is great," said Robison. "I've got some kids in here who have never wrestled and they're saying, 'yessir' and 'what can I do to get better.'"
However, the shortage of numbers imposes a profound effect on the program.
"To be competitive, we need 30 kids out," said Robison. "It takes 14 to fill a varsity lineup and I have several kids at the same weight. It puts us in a bad spot because a few of the other teams in the area have dropped us off their schedule because of that.
"Would you want to drive all the way here to have seven kids to wrestle?"
Area powers Ste. Genevieve and Jackson have dropped the Bulldogs from their dual schedules.
The core of the 2005-06 team, although mostly sophomores, has gained considerable experience in a USA Wrestling summer program organized by Robison.
"The same kids that were involved in the summer program are going to be the main varsity kids," Robison said. "It can do nothing but help our program, but when you only have six--it would be great if we had those six kids and then 20 others. It makes it real hard on a program when you can't get participation."
That group of six includes sophomore Robert Madison (heavyweight), sophomore Josh Northern (heavyweight), junior Chris Northern (189), sophomore Gavilan Bland (145), sophomore Craig Burton (119) and sophomore Ashton Cantrell (140), all varsity starters and lettermen as freshmen and sophomores.
Madison and Josh Northern competed on a select 14-15-year-old team, the Missouri Bulls, which captured Missouri's first-ever team championship in USA Wrestling.
Said Robison "Robert, Josh and Gavilan and the other kids who were on all the trips this spring and summer are our leaders in the ring. Some of them have developed a reputation. They've been seen at tournaments and I've had several coaches across the state speak about how Gavilan's going to be tough, Robert's going to be tough.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Robert will make it to state this year. How well he does is really up to him. He just blossoms every day, gets better every day."
Several promising newcomers, junior Garrett Wagner, junior Freddie Gilliland, sophomore Mariques White and senior Philip Harris, have joined the team.
On Wagner, projected at 125 pounds, Robison said, "He's never wrestled before, but he's going to be a good one, I believe. He's going to make a little bit of noise and surprise some folks."
Gilliland, also a first-year wrestler, has been impressive.
"It looks like he may end up with a starting spot," said Robison.
White, who has never participated in any organized sport, also drew praise from Robison.
"He's a natural athlete," he said, of White who is projected at the 160 or 171-
pound class. "This kid is a go-getter."
Both White and Gilliland have shown a tremendous capacity for work and willingness to improve.
Said Robison, "They have an attitude of 'show me what to do, coach, and I'm going to do it.'"
Sikeston, which finished 2-7 in duals last season, will again face a tough regular-season schedule, not to mention a stacked district which includes Cape Girardeau Central, Eureka, Farmington, Gateway, Hillsboro, North County, Pacific, Poplar Bluff, Rockwood Summit, Union, Washington, and Webster Groves.
Again, Farmington and Eureka are loaded and expected to be the frontrunners for a district title.
"I still think we're going to be on the bubble against most of the teams we face," Robison said, of the Bulldogs' dual competition. "One thing that I've tried to instill in these kids is a work ethic. Those that spent all spring and summer with me have that work ethic. They're physically drained when they walk out of that practice room, but they're ready for more.
"That's going to bring us up to the level of some teams. Our kids'll be in real good condition and that's going to make up for some of our inexperience."
The biggest loss from the Bulldogs' program is that of graduated heavyweight Joe Johnson. Johnson, a two-time all-stater, is now wrestling for Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis.
Sikeston opens the season with away dual matches against Poplar Bluff on Nov. 22 and Farmington on Dec. 1, then competes in the Affton Tournament on Dec. 3. The first home meet, one of only three, is against Carbondale on Wednesday, Dec. 7.