If Liberator wrestling’s 2018-19 season was a superhero movie, it would be tough to write a bigger, flashier sequel.
Bolivar ended the season with a historic second-place team finish at the state meet. Hayden Burks earned the team’s second-ever state gold medal, and first since 2012, while Austin Coons and Drayton Huchteman each earned silver medals in their categories. Granite Cunningham was third and Canyon Cunningham was sixth.
The Liberators saw two of their state qualifiers graduate — Granite Cunningham and Logan Hawk.
Seven of the team’s nine qualifiers return this year, and are joined by a large cast of new athletes — positive news for second-year coach Jeff Davis as he works to build a program that can continue last year’s upward trajectory.
“I think it’s huge,” he said. “We’re building depth and we’re going to get better. Last year, we started with 22 wrestlers and we finished with 20. We’re at 41 right now, so we’ve doubled our numbers in a year.”
The district rented a building on South Springfield Avenue, effectively doubling the team’s practice space to account for its growth.
“Where everyone fits in on the team, that’s a great question,” Davis said.
Part of that swell in numbers has come from incoming freshman, he said. It’s a group he’s made an effort to target by being an active presence at middle school wrestling practices.
“I’m down there teaching and coaching,” he said. “They know me. We’ve got a little bit of a relationship, so it’s not new to them.”
Those freshman newcomers include two girls — Heather Lippincott and Morgan McCallister. Both featured on the Liberators’ middle school squad.
“We’d like to have 10 or 12 girls, but we’ll get more,” he said.
Jesse Fields, Riley Beckman and Cael McCullah add to the formidable incoming class of 18 freshmen, Davis said.
“They’re really tough,” he said. “They’re talented, too.”
Davis said sophomores Logan Rice and Thomas Pennington could compete for top spots.
Garred Engle returns, and Davis said the senior has made a great deal of progress since last year.
“I think he’s ready for a breakthrough year,” he said.
In addition to seniors Burks and Coons and juniors Huchteman and Canyon Cunningham, seniors Riley Hawk and Jacob Matlock and junior Andrew Bunn also return from the Liberators’ 2018-19 state squad.
Engle, junior Logan Rowley and sophomores Joseph Hudspeth, Pennington, Rice and James Miller return from last year’s team.
Davis said the solid group of returners, along with his promising ranks of newcomers, bodes well for a team looking to follow the preceding season’s success.
“We like the excitement that’s been generated around the program,” he said. “Our administration is behind it, and we feel like our community is behind it.”