(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Coming off one of the best two year runs in school history, the Sikeston wrestling program has a new man at the helm as they get ready for the upcoming season.
Sikeston graduate and former Bulldogs' wrestler Chris Lowe takes the reigns starting this year after a three-year run by former coach Seth Harrell, whose kids made a total of 14 appearances at state.
"I've been very fortunate," Lowe said. "I've come into a program that coach Harrell and everybody had built up. The kids are into it and I have a good group. I've been very pleased so far.
"It's definitely been some good years for the team and it's getting better. The kids are buying into the program."
After sending five wrestlers to the Class 3 state tournament in 2011, the Bulldogs added to that total with seven making the trip in February of this year. Of those seven, two return for their senior campaign.
One of those kids, Nick Nichols, pulled off the impressive task in only his first year on the team after serving as a standout defensive lineman on the football field.
Though he fell in the early rounds of state last year and well short of medaling, Nichols has high hopes for his final season with the Bulldogs.
"Considering it was my first year I think I did pretty well making it to state," Nichols said. "This year I'm going for first place though."
Other honors Nichols earned in his first year include third place in the 182-pound division in the Class 3, District 1 tournament while also taking third place in the SEMO Conference Tournament.
After another impressive year on the gridiron this fall, where he had Lowe as an assistant coach, Nichols got a chance to know what his new coach expects from his players.
"He expects the best and if it's not, you do it over," Nichols said. "He's a pretty good coach and has been teaching us new things."
Another retuning senior, Jacob Stinnett, is coming off his second-straight appearance in the state tournament, where he fell in the second round of wrestlebacks.
On his way to a 32-16 record last season, Stinnett took third place in the 132-pound division in district and fifth place at the SEMO Conference Tournament, where the Bulldogs placed fourth as a team.
Like Nichols, Stinnett wants to finish his career on a high note.
"I qualified for state, but I would have liked to placed," Stinnett said. "I'm looking for a podium spot this year.
"I'm working hard in the practice room and lifting a little more this year."
Other returning veterans include senior Cody Middleton, who set a new Sikeston record last season with 27 wins by pin fall in the 126-pound division.
"I'm ready to get down to my weight and wrestle where I want to be at," Middleton said. "I broke the record with 27 pins and I'm looking to go out and maybe not beat it, but get somewhere close around that range."
He'll be joined by seniors Antwuan Dorsey and junior Taylor McIlwain, among others, as returning upperclassman bolster this year's roster.
With over 40 kids on the high school roster this season, and another 35 at the junior high level, Lowe said it's important for Nichols, Stinnett, Middleton and the rest of the senior class to lead by example.
"They all seem to be leading well so far," Lowe said of his seniors. "The kids underneath are buying into it. They're good leaders and good people to fall in with and they have a good foundation to help."
As for his team's goals this season, Lowe said it's simple.
"I'd like to say win everything, but that's not realistic," he said. "We want to get better every week.
"We're wrestling good competition, which is going to make us better and our goal is to do well at conference, districts and then ultimately do well at the state tournament."
Sikeston will host their first meet of the season Nov. 29 against Notre Dame and Dexter at the Sikeston Field House.