Success and consistency at the high school level are the result of a great work ethic, talent and a coaching staff that demands nothing short of excellence.
That's how Blue Springs wrestling coach Mike Hagerty and his staff have won two state championships in the past three years and brought home a trophy from the state tournament the last nine years.
They had hoped for a three-peat last season, but fell a bit short in that quest and returned to Blue Springs with a second-place trophy.
“We're excited about this season,” Hagerty said. “We lost a lot of talent off last year's team, but we have (defending state champions) Daniel Lewis and Michael Pixley back and we're ready for the challenge of a new season.”
Success and consistency are hallmarks of the Wildcats program, and this year's team will face an early challenge Dec. 3 when it meets Class 3 state champion Kearney in the season opener.
“I've said for a long, long time that to be the best, you have to compete against the best and eventually you have to beat the best,” Hagerty said. “When you open against a great team like Kearney, you're going to know where your team stands early in the season. And I like that. That's how you prepare for the remainder of the season, see what you need to work on.”
Hagerty owns three state championships at Blue Springs, yet he has the enthusiasm and drive of a hungry newcomer trying to make a name for himself and his team.
“I'm lucky because I love what I do,” Hagerty said. “I want to be the best, and I want my team to be the best.”
Lewis is a three-time state champion who is planning to be a 152 pounds this year, and Pixley won at 182 last year. State qualifiers Joe and Jeremy King also return, along with seniors Jayme and Colin Allen.
Second-year Wildcats basketball coach Adam Jones is pleased with what he's seen so far this season, even if it doesn't include proposed starting forward Elijah Lee. The senior is still starring for the Wildcats’ football team that is hoping to win its second-consecutive Class 6 state championship Friday in St. Louis against Columbia Rock Bridge.
“We miss Elijah, that's for sure,” Jones said, “but no one is cheering any harder for him and the team to win a second state championship. That's pretty amazing – winning it last year, and then bringing back Elijah and all those great players who were underclassmen last year. Our football guys will bring that winning attitude to our team, that's for sure.”
Last year's Wildcats enjoyed a successful first year for Jones, finishing 16-11 overall and 5-5 in the tough Suburban Big Six.
“We lost some good players off that team,” Jones said, “but we have some good kids back, too. We're all excited about this season. This is my second year as the head coach, and that just makes it easier for everyone.
“The players know what I expect, and I know what to expect from most of them. We have some new guys this year who could make an impact, and that makes it exciting.”
Cody Isabel, a 6-5 senior, will be the big man, along with the 6-4 Lee, who adds presence in the middle. Other returning letter winners are Darius Vaughn, Brian Armstrong and Kirk Finley. Quinton Harris, Kai Miller and Taysean Goodwin are newcomers who could fill big roles for the Wildcats.
“It's a while before we start against St. Joe Central on Dec. 6, so we'll get the football guys back, after giving a day or two off, and then we'll work on getting them ready for a new sport and a new season. I really like what I've seen this season so far, and I'm eager to see how we start the season.”
Girls swimming & diving
Bill Shalley doesn't like talking about the past.
The legendary Blue Springs swimming coach lives in the present, and right now, that present looks interesting.
“We've got small numbers out, and that's all right, because we've got the kids who want to be here,” said Shalley, who has led the Wildcat girls to seven state championships. “They have great attitudes and are showing a lot of discipline at practice. We just have to hope that all those good things continue when we start the season.”
Returning are several state qualifiers, including defending the defending state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke in senior Corinne Rinne. Juniors Ashley Sturman, a state finalist in the 200 and 500 freestyles, and Lindsey Meyer, and senior diver Mariah Hagerty, who earned second-team all-state honors for finishing 10th, also return with state credentials. Also back are seniors Leigh Ana Dietiker and Jordan Zinke, juniors Alex Crookston, Marie Kurucz and Paige McArthur and sophomore diver Lauren Jackson.
“I'm sure we're going to have some new kids make an impact,” Shalley said, “but right now, it's far too early to tell who they may be. Right now, I'm looking for some leadership. We have some good seniors, and they need to show some leadership skills.
“When you see your seniors out there showing the young kids what it takes to be a leader, everyone benefits. I do like the work ethic of the team – they're all working hard right now – but I'm still waiting to see this group jell as a team.
“It will be interesting to see how we look and where we are as a team in a couple of weeks.”
There's a running joke at Blue Springs girls basketball practices.
This year, even the coaches may need a program as Mark Spigarelli and his staff are working with a lot of new faces.
“We're looking for team leaders – if you find one, would you send them to our gym?” joked Spigarelli, who led the Wildcats to a state-record five final four appearances in a row, including last year's third-place state finish. “We lost four senior starters from last season, and two of them were multiple all-state performers (Division I signees Lizzy Wendell and Karyla Middlebrook).
“We're going from four senior starters to no seniors on the team this year.”
That's right – no seniors on the team. He's not just talking about his starting lineup; Spigarelli means his entire roster.
Spigarelli's Wildcats were 29-3 last year and sported an undefeated 10-0 mark in the tough Suburban Big Six conference. This year, well, he's as interested as any of the Wildcat fans to see what this season will bring.
“So far, at practice, it's been up and down, good day, bad day – it's just different from what we've had the past five years,” the veteran coach said. “The only starter we have back is (center) Morgan McMahan, and I think she could develop into a leader. So could Aliyah Lee, who is a great athlete and a very good player.”
Lee, who came on at the end of last season to help the state run, hit two late 3-point baskets to lead the Wildcats to a come-from-behind win over Lee's Summit West in a season-opening jamboree.
“Aliyah is going to be a very good player, and like Morgan, she's just a junior. We're going to need a junior to step up and take a leadership role because we don't have any seniors. From four seniors, who were all leaders in their own way last season, to no leaders on the team is a pretty dramatic change.
“But coaching at the high school level is all about change. That's what makes the past five years so amazing. We had so much talent over that span, and we got to the place where the girls really developed a bond and some great chemistry. We're looking forward to that happening with this year's group.”