COLUMBIA — J'den Cox and Alex Shea don't have the loudest voices on Hickman's wrestling team, but that doesn't bother them. The senior captains prefer to let their actions do the talking.
Cox and Shea have known each other since their youth wrestling club days, well before they were the leaders of the Kewpies' wrestling program.
"They came in as talented, unfocused freshmen who could get away with beating opponents on talent alone," Hickman coach J.D. Coffman said.
Coffman wanted more out of them, understanding that athletes that have their experience and talent do not come along every year.
By their sophomore seasons Cox and Shea were both named team captains. Both wrestlers share a similar philosophy on the job.
"A good teammate leads by actions," Cox said. "I try to show the younger guys how it's done rather than just telling them."
Shea said he also tries to lead by example.
"Whether it's showing them techniques or specific moves I just try to make myself helpful to them," he said.
Cox and Shea embraced their new leadership roles, becoming better wrestlers and better teammates in the process.
Freshman district champion Josiah Kline is one of those wrestlers who says he has benefited from only one season with the two seniors.
"They've been like older brothers to me," Kline said. "We usually spend a lot of time together at practice or during meets so we've gotten pretty close."
Coffman said there isn't a specific youth wrestling club for each high school, so his teams usually consist of first-time wrestlers who rarely have any experience on the mat. But he said Cox and Shea were different.
"They probably came in here with more experience between the two of them than I had on my entire team," Coffman said.
It's easy to tell that Coffman has enjoyed watching Cox and Shea improve over the past four years. Their consistency and maturity have been the most impressive things about their time at Hickman, Coffman said.
"They still have that care-free attitude they had as freshmen, but now they're 100 percent focused on their goals," Coffman said.
Cox, who has committed to wrestle for Missouri next season, said he knows he has gotten better.
"More than anything, realize you can always get better and be willing to take criticism," Cox said.
Shea said he has also gained from his time with the Kewpies.
"My favorite moments have been watching my teammates progress and achieve their goals," Shea said.
Those goals are different for each wrestler. Cox is trying to become Columbia's first four-time state champion, while Shea is trying to capture his first state championship this weekend at Mizzou Arena.