SPARTA — Highland High School’s wrestling program is working to take its place alongside the school’s well-established baseball and football programs. By moving former varsity coach Terry Wooff to middle school coach, Highland wrestling bolstered itself from the bottom up.
With only one senior on his squad, head coach Adam Gilmore’s second year as varsity head coach is being spent developing young talent. He has plenty of help as he expects an infusion of youth from the burgeoning middle school program during the next few years. This is especially true now that the Highland’s middle school recently won their league title. That news fired up the entire program, including the varsity.
“We’re more of a team unit.” said Gilmore. “There’s a lot of camaraderie. There’s a lot of encouragement from each other. The leadership is good.”
In the 103-pound class is Logan Clemens, who may be a bit on the small side, but he has a record of around .500 right now.
“He has wrestled really tough kids, including state qualifiers,” said Gilmore. “He is really learning a lot.”
Sophomore Dustin Atkins (112) is a letter winner from last year, despite being sick and hurt for much of the season.
“Right now, he’s steadily improving,” said Gilmore. “He had a good showing last weekend. He did some work in the off season but most of it was just about getting healthy.”
Highland’s 119-pounder is Cierra Ammons, who came into this season ready to give her best, despite suffering from a blown ACL that she sustained playing soccer in the fall.
“She finally got fitted for a knee brace,” said Gilmore. “We got her into shape and she wanted to give it a shot. She just couldn’t do it and, now, she has decided to get it (her knee) fixed.”
Junior Mike Shepard is in the 125 slot and is a two-time state qualifier for the Scots. Shepard is having another good season.
“He is one of our team captains this year,” said Gilmore. “He has grown up, matured and become more of a leader this year. Mike took a little time off over the summer and recharged his batteries.”
Freshman Daniel Super (130) is out with an injury right now. Gilmore is hoping to get him back soon. Meanwhile, Artie McAndrew floats between 130 and 135.
“Artie got sixth place in the sectional last year,” said Gilmore. “He won over 30 matches for us as a freshman. He is taking care of a couple of injuries before this year’s sectional. He is definitely a great person to have in the room. He works hard, doesn’t complain and goes after everything he can go after.”
At 140 is first-year junior Bo Allman, who is filling in where needed and learning one match at a time.
“Bo has bounced around,” said Gilmore. “Last week, he wrestled at 135. Earlier in the season, he was at 145. Wherever we need him, he’s in there, ready to go. It’s a trial and error process. When he comes off the mat, we tell him what he did right and what he did wrong. Bo’s learning and trying real hard.”
Along with Allman at 140 is junior Jordan Ammons, who placed sixth at the sectional two years ago. Last year, he missed sectional because he was battling injuries.
“He took time off to heal and he has improved,” said Gilmore.
At 145, Highland has a pair of first-year wrestlers named Joe Rayburn and Brandon Atwell.
“Just like Bo, they just keep learning,” said Gilmore. “We are real pleased with their improvement as well.”
Along with them is outstanding freshman Cody Kucera, who is Highland’s very first varsity wrestler to be named team captain as a freshman.
“Cody was a state qualifier in middle school last year,” said Gilmore. “He got second this past weekend at Heath. He has wrestled some tough kids — seniors and juniors, so he’s improving daily. He works hard. He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve got in this room.”
Incredibly, despite all Kucera has achieved, wrestling is not his favorite sport.
“Believe it or not, Cody hates wrestling,” laughed Gilmore. “He’s a really good baseball pitcher. Cody is just one of those kids, who will just excel in any sport that he does. He’s a hard worker, a great asset and he has a great attitude.”
Sophomore Billy O’Keeffe (152), who won a handful of matches last year, has improved his record to .500.
“He has stepped it up a notch,” said Gilmore. “Billy has increased his intensity from last year.”
Highland’s lone senior, 171-pounder Austin Kucera, is a three-time captain as well as a top student. He and brother Cody spent the summer weightlifting.
“Austin has been our tried and true leader throughout,” said Gilmore. “When we voted for captains, every single kid voted for him. He is a verbal leader, a leader by example and demands more out of each kid.”
So now, we know where Cody gets his work ethic, right? Wrong.
“Cody and Austin are two different animals,” explained Gilmore. “Austin will outthink himself. He will ask a bunch of question and he is very much intellectual. That is, not to take away from Cody, who is a very smart kid. They are just different people. Cody is just very much more athletically inclined than Austin is. Austin works very hard, and it is a pleasure to have them both.”
At 215, The Scots have first-year wrestler Andrew Brinson. He is another green wrestler, who is learning the sport, one lump at a time.
Chris Shell (285) is the big man for the Scots. The junior is coming back from a blown ACL last year. Shell was well enough to play football in the fall. He will wrestle his first match this Saturday.
“Hopefully, with all the football players and farm kids around here, we will get some more big kids to go out for wrestling,” said Gilmore. “The success of the middle school program should help.”