Hillsboro High School wrestling coach Scott O’Hare has a different kind of team this season than he has had in the past. He only has one senior on the roster.
“I had about three straight years where I had eight seniors,” O’Hare said. “We’ve been hit by graduation hard.”
However, as O’Hare began to describe his team, the same terms kept coming up. He described his wrestlers as hard workers, competitors who hate to lose, and strong, quick athletes.
“I’d love to have bigger numbers,” O’Hare said. “But, if I have a group of athletes who want to work hard, we can do a lot of things. I’d say ignore age.”
Senior Bret Mueller has already shown leadership as one of the returning wrestlers on the team. Through the team’s first two practices, he has been working with inexperienced wrestlers on technique.
Younger wrestlers who might match up with Mueller in practice are liable to learn from the experienced grappler.
“He’s progressed really well technically,” O’Hare said. “Just little things to do, body position, head position. He’s smart; those are things Bret understands. He’ll focus on those things and he’s going to make you focus on them.”
Mueller has been one victory away from the state tournament the past two seasons. O’Hare said Mueller has always possessed the willingness to work in practice and might be prepared this season to cut any inconsistencies he’s experienced in competition.
“He has had really good years as a practice room wrestler; you watch him do things in practice and say he’s ready for that in competition,” O’Hare said.
Mueller’s brother, Darren, was part of the group of senior Trojans that went to the state tournament last season. O’Hare also said Darren was inconsistent through his career but developed a mental edge his senior year to help him in matches.
“I hope (Bret) will get some his brother’s grittiness,” O’Hare said.
Mueller’s mental and physical toughness will be tested in possible matchups with Brody Carroll of Marion. Hillsboro will see Marion on Dec. 10 at the Hesston tournament, Dec. 16 at the Marion County Dual Tournament, and Jan. 13 and 14 at the Halstead Tournament.
Junior Tanner Jones was also within one match of making the state tournament last season.
“He had his best tournament ever at regionals,” O’Hare said.
Coming into the season at 175 pounds, O’Hare said Jones could wrestle at 170 or 160. Jones started last season in the 160-pound class and was stuck behind talented graduate Aaron Bina. He wrestled junior varsity until he cut weight to wrestle at 152.
“He’s a kid who needed to be in the varsity lineup,” O’Hare said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. He doesn’t look overly strong, but he’s powerful. He’s got a ton of potential.”
Jones is also taking some momentum from the Hillsboro football season into wrestling. As he improved over the course of the wrestling campaign last season, Jones played more and more as a linebacker and defensive lineman for the Trojans.
“He had some great games; he had a great game against Marion,” O’Hare said. “He gained a lot of confidence and trust in his teammates.”
Jones is one of the wrestlers O’Hare has trained since upper elementary school years in kids club. Sophomore Cody Delk has been in the Hillsboro wrestling program even longer, from early elementary school.
After suffering a wrist injury his freshman year during football, Delk was only able to wrestle with the Trojans in the final few weeks of the season. He quickly began improving, losing many one and two-point matches.
“He pushed some kids really well,” O’Hare said. “He ended up not having a great record, but a number of those he lost just because of conditioning.”
Delk came into the season at 140 pounds; he could easily make 138 but could also cut down to 132.
Hillsboro also has two wrestlers familiar to the program coming back after not wrestling last year.
Junior Tyrell Thiessen has joined the team after playing basketball his first two years of high school. He is coming into the wrestling season at 260 pounds and will wrestle as a heavy weight in the 285-pound division.
In middle school, Thiessen compiled a 24-1 record as a wrestler.
“I thought he could be a great heavyweight even from middle school,” O’Hare said. “He’s just a physical specimen: he’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, and he’s nimble.”
Hillsboro head football coach Max Heinrichs often said the 260-pound Thiessen was one of the fastest players on the team. Heinrichs also always wanted Thiessen to take his game to the next level.
“He’s always been the strongest kid, more explosive; in football he can take time off and still be OK,” O’Hare said. “A slip up against a good kid (in wrestling) will get him beat. It does become a big matter of pride.”
O’Hare said Thiessen will certainly be behind his competition as far as technique and mat presence are concerned, but should be in all of his matches because of his athletic ability. So far, Thiessen has expressed the willingness to improve every day in practice.
“I’m not saying he’ll run the table,” O’Hare said. “He has a lot to prove. With big guys, you don’t have to have a vast array of moves. A couple of good moves at every position and you’re going to win a ton of matches.”
Helping Thiessen will be the presence of sophomore heavyweight Matt Reeh. Reeh actually weighed in above 285 pounds before the first practice.
“This kid moves shockingly well, very agile for his size, he’s extremely flexible,” O’Hare said of Reeh.
Another Trojan absent from last year’s team was sophomore Scott Brazil. Brazil took the winter season off his freshman year to work out and get stronger in the weight room for football. During the season, Brazil expressed regret for not coming out for the team but felt he was too far behind his teammates to rejoin the squad.
This season he comes in ready to compete for a position at 145 or 152 pounds.
“He has a lot to bring to the table,” O’Hare said. “He’s very coachable, an extremely hard worker.”
Another wrestler who possesses intriguing competitiveness for O’Hare is 120- or 126-pounder River Cecil. Cecil wrestled mostly junior varsity last season but improved markedly through the year.
“He could come in and surprise people,” O’Hare said.
Cecil reminds O’Hare of graduate Justin King, who won matches by attacking his opponents with unparalleled, scrappy effort.
“Most people would look at River and not think he’s an athlete,” O’Hare said. “But River does great things on the mat.”
Newcomer sophomores JD Schmidt (132,138) and Preston Nelson (152,160) and four freshmen — Jon Carey (113,120), Jesse Meier (138,145), Cody Craney (170,182), and Dermot Morey (220) have also proven to be hard workers and give the Trojans needed depth.
The Trojans begin the season 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1 in Halstead for the Halstead/Minneapolis Double Dual.