Nate Danneman didn’t need any additional challenges in his debut as head coach.
Then he found out about senior Cameron Johnson’s torn ACL. Also West Platte’s football coach, Danneman learned of the injury just weeks before wrestling season, and his only returning qualifier for the Class 1 Missouri State Wrestling Championships was done for the season.
“Losing Cameron was big, being our only returning state qualifier,” Danneman said. “That’s going to hurt leadership-wise.”
West Platte qualified three for state last year but will be starting all over.
Justin Rhodes, a three-time state finalist and four-time qualifier, left as the most decorated wrestler in program history after winning the Bluejays’ first-ever state title as a senior. Johnson (220 pounds), Michael Devers (state qualifier at 195 in 2016), Dalton Larison (state qualifier at 195 in 2015) and Mitch Moppin (170) made up a talented upper portion of a lineup that rarely filled more than seven of 14 spots a year ago.
The big bright spot for optimism this season could be the return of junior Brayan Rodriguez, who missed a state berth as a freshman by just one match. He didn’t wrestle last year but should be in the lineup with senior Noah Conway in the 132 and 138 slots.
Devin Driskell, a junior, and sophomore 285 Thomas Tharp are the only other wrestlers with significant experience.
“Wrestling’s one of those animals that you need to have some kind of background, especially when you get to your sophomore, junior and senior year,” Danneman said.
The lineup will again be lean for West Platte, but Danneman hopes to start developing freshmen Jacob Brown, Mason Taylor and Devin Learue and sophomore Jullian Trelow, a first-year wrestler.
“We don’t have many wrestlers,” Danneman said. “It will be extremely difficult to win many dual matches with the number of weight classes that we have open. I do expect us to get better each and every match and be a very physical wrestling team. We are a very young team and it will take some time to get the results we want but we will continue to work hard every day to reach them.”