WRESTLING PREVIEW: Dexter returns key athletes in quest to repeat as district champion

Members of the 2019-20 Dexter High School wrestling team are (front row, from left) Eric Harmon, Dawson Jones, Diego McCormick, Andrew Saylors, Andrew Morgan, Austin Stieferman, Harrison Pennington, Carter Pennington, Drew Chamberlain, (second row) Kendall Mooy, Kolin Simpson, Bradyn Crockett, Caleb Coons, Owen Bewley, Alex Townsend, Malichi Harp, Luke Blocker, Jacob Medler, CJ Greene, third row Cutter Cornett, Drew Soule, Parker Vanslyke, Travis Waldner, Shawn Robards, Wyatt Parker, Mason Keena, Dylan Homan and Bryston Pemberton.
DEXTER STATESMAN/Kyle Smith

Last season, the Dexter wrestling team won its first district championship.

Coach James Sneed and his team want to make it two in row when February rolls around.

“We really don’t talk about that stuff early on,” Sneed said. “Just trying to get in shape and compete. But, yeh, that’s what we’re going to wrestle toward, trying to defend the district title.”

The Bearcats bring back six of their 11 state qualifiers from last season.

Senior Travis Waldner, who finished fourth at state last season, returns but is moving up several weight classes from 138 pounds to 182.

Senior Bryston Pemberton returns after reaching the second round of wrestlebacks in 2018-19.

C.J. Greene, Wyatt Parker, Alex Townsend and Parker Vanslyke return and will be attempting to reach the state tournament and win a match there.

The Bearcats could have sent a 12th wrestler to state last season, but Mason Keena was slowed by a bout of mono.

However, Keena will miss time this season while recovering from an injury to his trapezius muscle he suffered during football season.

“Mason, he hasn’t practiced yet,” Sneed said. “(He’s) still beat up from football. He went to the doctor (Friday, Nov. 22). I haven’t heard back. … He’s not healthy by any means. We’re hoping we can get him back at some point in the year because he would have definitely been a state qualifier last year. He helps us out a lot.”

Keena qualified for state during his sophomore season, reaching the second round of wrestlebacks.

The Bearcats lost state quarterfinalists Colten Gibson and Dawson Jones to graduation, as well as Wyatt Chasteen and Jett Featherston, who reached the second round of wrestlebacks a season ago.

Featherston, Gibson, Pemberton and Waldner won district championships last season to help the Bearcats edge perennial power Ste. Genevieve by 3.5 points.

Twenty-eight athletes came out for wrestling this year, and the Bearcats have the most depth in the middle and heavyweight divisions.

“Right now, we’ll be able to fill the whole squad, all 14 weight classes,” Sneed said. “We do have some depth at places. That’s what really helps you in wrestling when you have depth and competition in the room. We’re ready to get going. We’re looking forward to what’s going to happen this year.”

The Bearcats will host four meets this season, up two from last season.

“It just depends on the rotation,” Sneed said. “All the (trimatches and quad matches) rotate around. This year, it happened to fall where we got four. We’re happy we don’t have to travel as much. We travel a lot.”

Dexter opened its season Tuesday, Dec. 3 in a four-team match at DHS, featuring DeSoto, Notre Dame and Sikeston.

They will host Kennett on Jan. 16, Poplar Bluff on Feb. 6 and another four-team match, featuring Cape Central, Kennett and Notre Dame on Feb. 11.

The Bearcats will travel to Owensville, Marshfield, Park Hills, Ste. Genevieve, Sullivan and Wentzville this season, and the district meet will be at St. Clair.

“By the time we come around to districts, we’ll normally have wrestled about everyone in our district,” Sneed said. “We have a pretty good idea of how we’re going to fare.”

Two-time Semoball Awards Wrestling Athlete of the Year winner Waldner has big goals for the upcoming season.

“My goal is to go undefeated to make sure they know I’m the best,” Waldner said during the summer. “That sounds cocky, but I know I was the last two years. I just want to prove it.”

Waldner carries a 128-14 record into this season.

An undefeated season would mean winning his first state championship.

“That’s his goal every year,” Sneed said. “He hasn’t quite got there yet, but we’re hoping this is going to be the year we get it done.”

Waldner is a three-time state qualifier, posting a personal-best third-place finish during his sophomore year.

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