Another sign of a summer hedging far closer to normalcy, Marshfield wrestling was able to make its yearly voyage to the NEO Team Camp held at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Okla.
This year, the boys had some company.
"Our girls went to NEO this year for the first time," Jays boys wrestling head coach Matt Holt said. "We took six and it's the first time we've taken girls. I think there were 35 girls there total, and it's going to grow pretty quick."
State qualifier Kiana Massie's only defeats at the tourney came to Isabella Renfro of Seneca, who defeated her at sectionals in the winter.
"She started a weight class above Kiana so we were giving up about 20 pounds to her," Holt said. "We were the ones forcing the action, but the weight was the difference."
Among the other Lady Jays, Macie James was undefeated in live wrestling, as were Trinity Lesser and Josselynn Yates. Ariaha McIllwain rained surpreme in her division of the camp's takedown tournament.
Josselynn Yates, Macie James, Trinity Lesser, Parker Hammons, Maguire Wilson undefeated after two days.
“All the girls had winning records and were top-3 at some aspect of the camp,” Holt said. “Also, Coach [Nicole] Pooley was able to go with us. When you have a female on staff, it makes it easier.”
Needing to fill big shoes in the higher weight classes with the graduation of Daylon Kanengieter and Eli Steffen, Maguire Wilson and Jagger Robinson each performed well at the camp, as did some of the Jays' best lower-weight competitors.
“Maguire went 8-0 and went to the finals in the takedown, and Jagger went 6-2 in live matches, so it was very encouraging to see that from them,” Holt said. “Some of our bigger guns like Dustin and Damian came out with winning records. Both went 7-4 and they beat several state medalists –– had some wins over state champions from Kansas and Arkansas –– so they did awesome.”
Some of the younger guns on the roster also performed admirably. Among them was Parker Hammons, who will be sophomore and could be this winter's fill-in for Garrett Cantrell.
"He wrestled a varsity bracket and went an undefeated 8-0 so we're really pleased with that," Holt said. "I also had a freshman that we're pretty excited about, Tanner Davidson, and he went 8-3 with his only losses coming to upperclassmen. He did what we're hoping we would see out of him. I think he could surprise some people...by the end of the year, he could qualify for the state tournament."
Coaches and student-athletes left for the trip Tuesday morning and arrived back later Thursday in what’s the seventh trip to the NEO Camp in Holt’s eighth year heading the program. The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event. “My first year, it was me, [the kids] and a minivan,” he said. “The last couple years we’ve had buses, and this year Coach [Adam] Wright had his license [to drive it].”
Just as important as the actual wrestling at the tournament, it’s absence deprived the Jays of some critical opportunities to forge relationships and some to develop leadership skills.
“It’s the team-bonding [that’s missed most],” Holt said. “It’s the first chance for seniors to be seniors. The coaches, we’re always at the back, but we really let them lead it. We had a good senior class last year, but they never got the opportunity until the season to be ‘the guys.’ At the camp, our seniors did a great job leading not just in the room, but also building the team up, and we missed that, building that closeness. I didn’t feel like we were as close in the past [last season].”
Holt talked about the uneasy feelings that came with quarantining and the possibility of not having a season and how this summer feels in contrast. “We’re back in the gym with open mats, and we did it last year but...our kids feel like wrestling’s happening for sure this year, we’re working towards goals. If you asked me last year [if we’d wrestle], I think it was 50-50. Was it all going to be for nought? This year, our kids feel like there’s definite goals and that they’ll get to attempt to accomplish them. That’s the biggest normalcy.”
A highlight of this summer is marked for July 1 when Marshfield is set to host a dual that will include roughly 10 boys and girls programs each, among them Ozark, Branson, and 10-time state champion Whitfield.