With winter sports set to begin soon, the Festus Wrestling Program is preparing to do big things in the 2021-2022 season. Before we look at the Tigers’ journey ahead, let’s look back at what these fine athletes accomplished last season.
Fetus always wrestles a tough schedule in order to prepare for the battles that will occur come State tournament time. Last season, the Tigers were 17-11-1. Fortunately for the squad, the team only lost three starters, Luke Shavers, Andrew Nahlik and Jordan Banks.
Being able to build on a successful season means returning key athletes. Festus will return eight starters, including Austin Neff, Blake Sexton, Lucas Mercurio, Bobby Buehre, Lauren Mills, Kirsten Klein, LeeAnn Dobbs and Sarah Gazaway.
Throwing a wrench into the consistency is the fact that Festus has a new head coach, Jarad Sheppard. Ameritime Sports was able to interview Coach Sheppard to give us his thoughts and predictions on how the season would turn out. His responses are below.
Who do you see as being your top and key athletes this season?
“For the Boys this year I see Neff, now a Senior who took fourth place at State at 106 lbs., and Freshmen Payton Shaver who has put in a lot of off-season work and is one of the hardest workers in the room, as being key to our success.”
“For the Girls, I am excited to see what Mills, a Junior, will accomplish this year as a returning State qualifier who has also put in a lot of work in the off-season, as well as Klein, a Senior, who is a returning State placer finishing fifth in 2021. Those two will set the tone for the season.”
What are your expectations for the team this season?
“My expectations are for the team to continue to develop and I expect hard work. And to wrestle quality matches that they can build off of and grow from to prepare for a successful postseason.”
What are the strengths of this team, and what aspects do you think will be a work in progress?
“The kids this year have been very receptive to the transition of a new coach and have been enthusiastic about the different approach I have taken with them. They have responded well to the intensity demanded of them in the practice room, and they are willing to work hard and be coachable. Our team is full of kids with very high character who constantly choose to do the right thing, which is important when you have a smaller program.”
“A challenge with our program being smaller is that we don’t have the ability to give kids a variety of looks with different practice partners everyday. I am very optimistic that this will change in the future with the direction that I plan to steer the program. We just kicked off our inaugural season of a brand new youth program, which is going to help grow the popularity of wrestling in our district and pull more kids to the sport over time.”
What do you think of your schedule this year? What will be some of the challenges?
“I am excited about our schedule this season. We added a few new tournaments that Festus has never gone to before that are full of quality teams. It is important that our kids wrestle as many quality opponents as they can so that by the time Districts roll around in February, they are prepared to rise to the occasion and advance to the State Tournament, which is what makes the entire grind of the wrestling season worth it in the end.”
“We will be challenged this year to beat teams in our dual schedule, even without having a full Varsity lineup, which is unfortunate, but luckily for us, has no impact at an individual level when it comes to advancing in the postseason.”
Are there any other athletes you’d like to mention?
“I am excited to see what Dobbs will do for us this season on the Girls team. She was close to qualifying for State last year and is wrestling very confidently so far this year. Mercurio and Buehre have put in a lot of work this off season and I look forward to seeing that translate into their success on the mat.”
The Festus Tigers are geared up and ready to rock the mats this season, and hopefully start a new era of success with Coach Sheppard leading the charge.
Good luck Tiger wrestlers!