Jefferson City wrestling coach Phil Cagle has the philosophy that wrestling's regular season is a massive buildup to two weekends in February.
The first weekend he is referring to, the district tournament, has arrived.
Unfortunately for Jefferson City, injuries and other issues have gotten in the way of that plan.
The Jays come limping into Class 4 District 3 action, which gets under way at 5 p.m. today at Fleming Fieldhouse.
"Probably 80 percent, 75 percent of our team is where they need to be," Cagle said. "The others, we've just got some injuries. We're trying to get them over those so we can get them where they need to be."
Missing for the Jays will be Mike Stewart, who suffered a torn ACL recently. Cagle said Rodney Webbe, ranked fourth by missouriwrestling.com at 145 pounds, will be a question mark for the tournament with an ankle injury.
Cagle also said several Jays are dealing with other injuries and skin issues that could limit or prevent them from wrestling this weekend.
"We wrestled some tournaments and we picked up some skin issues at those tournaments, and we're trying to deal with them," Cagle said.
The issues are a tough break for the Jays, who entered the season with an incredible amount of youth, which included up to five freshmen wrestling on the varsity. The Jays lost their first dual meet of the season to Lebanon before reeling off 10 straight victories to close the season. They also took first at the Hickman Tournament.
"Our young kids have had a great year, they've stepped up," Cagle said. "Our seniors have showed a lot of great leadership in bringing these young kids around. It's been a good year."
Besides Webbe, three other Jays are ranked, including Jacob Brune, seventh at 106; Logan Moriarity, sixth at 120; and John Carter, second at 285.
Carter is the Jays' only returning state qualifier from a season ago and he faces stiff competition in districts. Waynesville's Jacob Semple is ranked first at 285, with Nixa's Xyah Ra ranked third.
"We want to just have them mentally ready," Cagle said. "Right now it's that time of the year. There are a lot of kids who are wrestling, they are tired of cutting weight, they're tired of going to practice and they're tired of this. So we're telling our kids they need to take advantage of those kids."
Even without injuries, the Jays face the usual uphill climb of a tough district that features 31 wrestlers ranked in their respective weight class according to missouriwrestsling.com. That includes Waynesville, ranked fifth as a team in Class 4.
The Jays did catch a break, though, as redistricting sent Blue Springs to District 4 and Holt and Timberland to District 2. Blue Springs is ranked second in Class 4, Holt is ranked third and Timberland is sixth. Blue Springs was the district champion last year, while Jefferson City finished third.
But this district tournament is a little different than the past, as the Jays usually have an idea of three or four wrestlers likely to make it to state. This year, with so much youth, there was a lot of uncertainty as to who would step up during the season for Jefferson City.
"It's a little different this year, knowing where we're tough, other people are really tough, too, Cagle said. "This is what we're talking about when we talk about overachieving. We want our kids to overachieve this weekend."
Saturday's action gets underway at 10 a.m., with the medal matches expected to start around 4:30 p.m. Schools competing include Eureka, Hickman, Joplin, Lee's Summit West, Nixa, Northwest, Ozark, Raymore-Peculiar, Rock Bridge, Springfield Central, Springfield Kickapoo and Waynesville.
The top four finishers from each weight class advance to the state tournament, which begins Thursday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.