This appears to be the type of season a coach of an up-and-coming wrestling program tries to build toward.
From a team that went 8-5 in duals last season and took seventh at districts, William Chrisman coach Mick Cronk welcomed back 12 letter winners to practices last month, including seven seniors – four of whom qualified for the Class 4 state tournament.
Louis West (31-19 record last season) and Josh Wallace (25-9) each won a bout at state last season, and Larry Danforth (27-13) and Tomasi Tuione (32-16) also gained some experience on the state tournament mats at Mizzou Arena.
“We’ve had a winning season for a few years,” said Cronk, whose Bears had a solid opener Tuesday by sweeping through the Independence City Duals. “We had several other kids just on the edge (of going to state). I really think if we work hard and do the right things, we can make some noise and do something Chrisman’s never done before.
“I believe the school record is five at state. I think we can get six or seven or eight if things work out.”
Sophomore Anthony Wheeler, senior Derek Williams (37-14) and junior Andy Bennett each fell a match short of going to state last year. Dustin Cikan, and Deontay and Keontay Lapsley round out a senior class that got thrust into the fire as freshmen and have steadily improved. With all the returning experience and some quality varsity newcomers, Cronk expects to have his lineup full and competitive.
“When they were freshmen,” he said of the seniors, “half of them were starting varsity as freshmen and it was their first year of wrestling. We’ve got a handful of quality juniors.
“We have the ability to make this a special year for William Chrisman wrestling. We can’t wait for the season to start.”
Lindsay Thompson doesn’t see her situation as a quandary.
The veteran William Chrisman girls basketball coach doesn’t have a team with too many guards fighting for playing time. Rather, she sees an opportunity to fully employ a preferred scheme.
“We have the wonderful problem of having a ton of talented guards,” Thompson said. “Look for us to apply pressure for 32 minutes. We take pride in defending well and are getting better each day.
“We’ll play all 90 feet for 32 minutes and hopefully wear out other team,” she said. “We've always played 90 feet, but we’ve never had the caliber of guards that we have this year. I think we’ll be able to get out and guard a little better than in the past.”
Improved defense would help soften the blow of graduated leading scorer Neika Wheeler. Rachel Losch is a returning starter at guard, as is Makenzie Erikson. Junior guards Asia and Dasia Young also return with letters, and 5-foot-5 freshmen Adreon Bell has made a strong impression in the team’s 1-1 start.
“It's a different challenge. (Wheeler) graduating has allowed other kids to step up,” Thompson said. “It’s very exciting to see new kids start to emerge. We have a great freshman class, which is always very exciting.”
The Bears (15-10 last season) aren’t devoid of height, either, not with 6-foot junior Haley Rodriguez returning and 5-10 senior Chrissy HoChee, the 5-9 Losch and 5-9 freshman Bri Burns in the mix.
“The great thing about this team is we have 11 kids I feel comfortable changing in and out,” Thompson said. “This year will be so much fun. This is the nicest, most coachable group I have ever coached. The experience of our returning letter winners, plus the enormous heart of our seniors, plus the energy and enthusiasm of freshmen means a ton of fun.”
Coming from St. Pius X High School, where he coached 12 seasons and guided the Warriors to a Class 3 state runner-up finish last season, Chad Wright inherited a William Chrisman team that boasts six returning letter winners from last year’s 13-11 campaign but not much height.
Junior center Malic Horn is the tallest Bear at 6-foot-3, and returning seniors Alex Ball and Brett Pendergist are the tallest projected starters, each at 6-2.
That doesn’t alter much what schemes Wright planned to install.
“We’re just going to look for matchup problems and try to pull out (opponents’) bigger guys,” Wright said. “We’re still going to go inside-out, and Alex Ball will be one of our main go-to guys in the post.”
Led by Ball, Brett Pendergist and Chris Horn, Wright hopes he has a strong returning nucleus to build around. Gannon Ogle and one of two sophomore guards, Eli Henderson or Randall Horn, look to round out the normal starting five.
“I knew they had a lot of varsity returnees,” Wright said. “The kids were pretty committed to the offseason program.
“We have a good foundation, we’ve just got to figure out how to have a consistent winning attitude. I’m throwing a lot of new stuff at them, and they’re just getting adjusted to that and buying into playing team basketball – having more of a team mindset.
Girls swimming & diving
It’s a small but diligent group Trevor Tomney has swimming for William Chrisman this winter. Tomney said he has just one freshman competing for the Bears.
“Chrisman has a team that is very dedicated and motivated,” said Tomney, the director of the Henley Aquatic Center who also coaches the Truman and Van Horn teams. “Several of the girls have been swimming in the offseason, and we are certain that their dedication will help the team this year.
“We would love to see more kids. We have high expectations that our middle school program will help develop the team in regards to numbers and experience.”
Jordyn Herl is the diver among eight returning Bears. Tomney mentioned junior Lexi Parsons in the sprints as someone who could challenge state qualifying times.