COLUMBIA — Forty-nine athletes showed up for one of the first Hickman wrestling practices this season. They crammed in to the small practice area above the locker rooms in the school's swimming facility. The situation has Kewpies coach J.D. Coffman thinking about holding split session practices in order to accommodate the numbers. Coffman said he usually begins a season with about 30 to 35 individuals.
Mostly, though, the high numbers have Hickman coaches and wrestlers alike thinking the season holds great promise.
"This is a pretty big deal for us to have this many kids here at this point in the year," Coffman said Thursday. "We had almost 40 kids here tonight. A couple of kids have already decided that it wasn't for them. The ones that are still here, I think will stick it out."
The wrestlers who have been around the program for a few years know that having a lot of participation is a great way to kick things off.
"It's exciting," senior Will Owens said. "We have some wrestlers who are very experienced. We have a lot of returning seniors this year and a lot of guys who have potential. We can be very good this year."
It is the program's third week of practice, but it is the first week for Owens, who, along with junior J'den Cox, has just finished the football season. The two started wrestling practice after taking a short time off to rest.
"They played almost every down, offense and defense," Coffman said. "I wanted them to take some time and get freshened up a bit."
Cox begins this season in search of his third straight state title. He won the Class 4 215-pound championship last year and claimed the title at 171 pounds the year before. This season he will be competing in the 195-pound division. The Kewpies are counting on his his leadership.
"I’m thinking we’re ready to go," Cox said. "Those who have been here, and those who have just showed up are learning quick. Everybody is hungry to get out there and do what they need to do."
Coffman said he is looking for improvement from his squad this season. Even though some individuals did well at tournaments last season, Coffman said he did not get the team performance he was looking for.
"A victory at Rock Bridge was probably the high note of our season as far as team duels," Coffman said. "I don’t know if we were strong enough in all 14 weight classes to really compete as a team. If you get eight kids, seven to eight kids, who are really performing well throughout the weight classes, then you can do well. We just didn't have that."