The McDonald County boys wrestling team has 10 starters and five state qualifiers returning for the 2022-23 season, numbers sure to bring a certain level of excitement to any program.
The Mustangs can build around 120-pound junior Jose Mendoza, 138-pound senior Blaine Ortiz, 150- or 157-pound senior Levi Smith, 215-pound junior Samuel Murphy, and 285-pound junior Jayce Hitt, their five returning state qualifiers.
Murphy, Hitt, and Ortiz have earned a combined four state medals during their high school careers so far, including a state runner-up for Ortiz at 113 pounds in 2021 and Murphy a third-place finish last season.
Move-ins Emmit Houston (from North Park HS in Walden, Colo.) and Nathaniel McLaughlin (Arkansas) have been thrown into a mix that also features other returning starters in senior Cross Spencer (150 / 157), sophomore J.T. Clemons (150 / 157), sophomore Brady Bogart (170), sophomore Alex Bogart (190), and sophomore Malosi Sosef (190).
On top of that, Beau Bennett (Pittsburg HS, Baker University), Joshua Tyler (Springdale Har-Ber HS, Williams Baptist), and Reid Davis (Butler HS) have joined the coaching staff.
“I feel like it’s going to be an exciting season for both our girls and boys teams,” McDonald County coach Josh Factor said. “We have a very talented group on our boys team and yet we have never won any hardware in the Big 8 Conference, district, or state tournaments. It’s always fun to strive to accomplish something for the first time as a team. As for our girls team, we’re still working on getting our first girl to the state tournament.”
Last season, Murphy finished third and Hitt fifth at state at 220 and 285, as the Mustangs finished 17th overall in Class 3 with 39 points.
The Mustangs finished seventh in Class 3 District 3 with 118 points and Ortiz, Murphy, and Hitt each won district titles.
McDonald County also finished third in the Big 8 and Ortiz, Smith, and Murphy each claimed individual conference titles.
Murphy put together a 47-2 overall record and Ortiz finished 41-7, Smith 42-10, Hitt 24-6, and Mendoza 18-21.
Spencer went 15-30 last season, Clemons 9-27, Brady Bogart 1-9, Alex Bogart 17-26, Sosef 4-6, and Houston achieved a 24-10 overall record during his freshman season in Colorado.
On the girls side, McDonald County returns Jaslyn Benhumea at 105, Stacy Apolinar-Lopez at 145, and Gisel Aragon at 170.
The Mustangs open the season on Thursday with a dual against Big 8 powerhouse Seneca, winners of four straight Big 8 tournament titles. The Mustangs went 12-15 in duals last year.
“Concerns will be how will our teams respond to competing in tough tournaments throughout the season,” Factor said. “We will have several tough tournaments, but the Kansas City Stampede on Dec. 16-17 and the Thrasher Tournament on Jan. 27-28 will both be good tests for our boys team and our girls will be challenged at every event they attend.
“For our teams to succeed this year, we have to remain healthy and be able to compete at our best in February. If we can do those two things, I believe success will be the result.”
The KC Stampede brings together some of the very best wrestling programs from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, as well as some ringers from states like Texas, Georgia, and Iowa. Murphy highlighted McDonald County’s performance last year with third place, successfully rebounding after his first loss of the season.
Francis Howell hosts the Kyle Thrasher Memorial Tournament and last season’s event brought in 37 teams from across the state of Missouri.
McDonald County will compete in the Big 8 Tournament for the girls Jan. 18 at Nevada and the boys Jan. 20 at Cassville.
District and state competition are in February for boys and girls.