Last season was one of the most successful in the history of the Rolla wrestling. The Bulldogs finished sixth as a team at the State Meet and had four top three finishes. Rolla works to build on that success, as three of those four wrestlers come back this season.
While Rolla's season looks bright, the Bulldogs were dealt a couple of tough blows this offseason. Just weeks before the start of the season Nate Pulliam, Rolla's defending State runner up at 113 who finished the season 49-1, hurt his hip during the first round of soccer Districts. Pulliam expects to make a recovery in time to get a good chunk of his season in, but he's going to be missing some time. On top of that, Justin Briggs, who qualified for State as a heavyweight last season, suffered an injury of his own during football season. His future this season is still up in the air. While it's a shame to see Pulliam forced to the sideline, head coach Marty Hauck will wait until his sophomore is at 100% and knows that he'll put in all the work necessary to get to the top of the podium at the end of the season.
"The key for him is staying off of it and staying healthy," said coach Hauck. "That's the thing, he goes. He plays three sports, he's got a 4.0 GPA, the kid does everything right and his job right now is just to get healthy, just to calm down and let his body heal and we're going to be ready in February."
While Pulliam is out, Rolla has some big guns that are ready to shoulder the load. Zack Fennell comes back as a third place finisher last season and is Pulliam's wrestling parter. The duo spent all offseason working together and competing at various events to hone their craft. Coach Hauck is excited to see what Fennell has in store for this season.
"Nate doesn't improve without Zack. That's the bottom line," said the Rolla head coach. "They're partners, they train together, they spend the summer together, they went to tournaments together. All these tournaments that Nate was doing real well at, Zack was doing real well at too."
Another top three finisher coming back is Anthony Sederburg, who wrestled at 106 last season. He and his brother Xander were both important cogs in a very loaded lightweight portion of the Rolla lineup last season. Look for the duo to continue to improve, especially with Anthony entering his senior season.
"We expect them to be solid in our lineup and we look for them to be everyday guys in our lineup and we go from there," said coach Hauck. "You're looking between 106 and 120 is where we're looking at putting them. If you can get them back down there and get them healthy and they're wrestling well, it's going to be a pretty nasty lineup, I think."
Rolla also has a ton of other players coming back in a loaded lineup. Dathan Mickem, Colton Franks, Bryce O'Connor and Ian Dobkins are a handful of the players that saw regular time in the lineup that will return this season. While they had varsity experience last season, coach Hauck says every job is up for grabs and there are a slew of young wrestlers hungry to take those spots.
Coach Hauck thinks he has a few kids that can come in and take some starting jobs. Hunter Hoffman is fighting for a job at 106, while some heavies in Chris Bench and Reiss Clark will took to fill in for Briggs. Hayden Fane is another heavier wrestler that will look to take a spot as a freshman. That's on top of some other kids that were on the verge of varsity matches last season like Justin McEnaney, Dakota Arthur, Orion Parker Billy Cowan and Issac Hunter to name a few.
"They're new kids, but they're not new to us. They've been in our program and they've come up through it," said the Rolla head coach. "Hunter Hoffman at 106, he's going to be a beast for somebody to handle. He's trained with these guys, he's been here all his life. He's a very good wrestler. He's got a few holes in his game that we're working on right now to close the gap and get him up to the varsity level, which I think he's going to be at...I expect him to be in the varsity lineup by the end of the year and I expect him to be on the State stand as well.
"We've got Chris Bench, who was an awesome nose guard for our football team," continued coach Hauck. "He's a tough kid and he's come in. We've got him and a freshman, Reiss Clark, who's done outstanding against him and Reiss has wrestled all of his life."
Also new this season will be a girls season. For the first time in the history of Missouri wrestling, there will be an official girls season this year that will have its own District and State Tournaments. Coach Hauck thinks he has some real standouts amongst the girls that will look to make a splash this season. Most girls teams on average have about five wrestlers. Rolla has 15 and they will look to get as many matches as they can throughout the season as they prepare for a postseason run.
"The state planned on 10 weight classes and now we're going 12 weight classes, because there's so many girls. There's over 800 girls that are registered. Over 720 girls have certed already, so there are over 720 girls that are ready to wrestle right now and that's exciting to see," said coach Hauck. "When you break it down by how many schools have it, that's about five or six girls per team, right now we've got 15 certed and 18 on the roster. Our girls are doing really well right now."
Rolla's number one female wrestler this season looks to be Hannah O'Connor, as she has the most experience under her belt. But that doesn't mean she's the only main player for the Lady Bulldogs in their first season as an official team. Coach Hauck has liked what he's seen across the board from the girls as they gear up for the season.
"Hannah O'Connor, she's a sophomore, she's wrestled all her life. She's definitely one that's going to help us lead the team," said Hauck. "We've got some fire power coming out right off the bat. Celeste Lietz and Annabelle (Lara) and Serenity (Gathier) and these girls that came in, Samara (Lewis). Our little girls, we've got Brooklyn (Gore) and Brooke (Dillon) that are our two lightweights.
"We're going to have some firepower in our lineup and I'm looking forward to seeing exactly what they bring," continued the Rolla head coach. "They've raised the level in our room, they're excited to go live. They're gritter than some of the guys and that's raised the level of our guys. It's fun to see. We've got Delalah (Bailey) and Misti (Moentmann) as our upper weights and they're doing good things. They're just learning and growing every day and that's all we ask for."
Coach Hauck continues to set a high bar and he thinks his boys and girls teams are up for the challenge. Last season, Rolla finished sixth in the State as a team and this year, it's time to take another step.
"We know this is what we do in Rolla, we win big matches and that's what we're going to do," said the Bulldog head coach. "That's really the only expectation that's there and they already know that. Just go be us."