Darrell Luebbert and his coaching staff attacked the first offseason at the helm of the Jefferson City Lady Jays wrestling program with the goal of growing their numbers, and it worked.
The Lady Jays will get their first look at their roster that’s triple the size of last year when they open the season at 5 p.m. today in the Steve Leslie Invitational at Pleasant Hill High School.
“This is something we have been working toward for a long time,” Luebbert said. “Our team is looking big, we tripled it. That’s a good start so far.”
Jefferson City has two returning state medalists from last year’s roster.
Junior Lexi Dunwiddie leads the pack coming off a Class 1 state championship last year with a 53-3 record at 130 pounds.
Dunwiddie is even more motivated coming into this season and will compete at 140 while also serving as a team captain.
“That’s one thing you always worry about, when you get a state championship, what’s going to happen to the kid, are they going to get a big head or are they going to let off training,” Luebbert said. “Lexi was one I had to tell her to stop (training). She just kept going and going and going.”
Also coming off a state medal is junior Kyla Finney, who finished sixth at 190 pounds last year with a 44-16 record.
Finney is back at 190 this year and is ready to improve on last year’s success.
“She’s ready to go,” Luebbert said.
The Lady Jays’ other captain will be junior Kaylee Redcay, who finished last year with a 27-14 record at 140.
Redcay finished one match shy of qualifying for state last year and that’s fueled her heading into this year, which she will compete at 135.
“She hasn’t stopped either,” Luebbert said. “… I am looking for good things to come out of her, as well.”
Also returning from last year’s roster is Deja’Nette Wallace, who finished 25-24 last year at 170 but will compete at 155 this season.
Jefferson City will have six freshmen making their high school debuts.
Makinze Hayes will compete at 100, Mya Davis will wrestle at 110, Vivian Smith at 120, Olivia Weiss is expected to compete at 130 starting next week, Caroline Bell at 170 and Samara Nyatanga at 235.
Dunwiddie and Redcay have played a major role in helping the freshmen along.
“Our girls are stepping up, everybody is helping everybody,” Luebbert said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way our captains are working out.”
Rounding out the roster is senior Audrina Houston at 115 and junior Echo Foss at 145.
“Audrina Houston, who’s a first-time senior, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Luebbert said.
The Lady Jays will be open at 105 and 125.
Jefferson City will also look to freshman Dani Williams at 140, as well as sophomore Allison Kinard and freshman Jaiden Allen at 170, to fill in the lineup when needed.
The Lady Jays will get plenty of opportunities to gain experience early in the season with six tournaments before the end of the calendar year.
Following the Steve Leslie Invitational today, Jefferson City will compete in the Thrasher Tournament on Dec. 9, the Blair Oaks Tournament on Dec. 13, the Lady Mustangs Christmas Clash on Dec. 15-16, the Steve Johnson Tournament on Dec. 23 and the Wonder Woman Tournament on Dec. 28-29.
“Our newcomers, we just need to get mat time,” Luebbert said. “That’s how you’re going to get better, mat time, mat time. We are just working on the small stuff and not making big mistakes.”
The Lady Jays will make the jump from Class 1 to Class 2 this season.
Jefferson City increased the difficulty of its schedule to help prepare for the jump.
“We got out of some of our other tournaments and started getting into some tougher tournaments because we kind of had the feeling we were going up to Class 2,” Luebbert said. “So, I prepared us with our schedule and hopefully everything works out alright and we stay healthy.”
The Lady Jays will compete in Class 2 District 2 alongside 21 other teams, including Central Missouri Activities foes Capital City, Battle, Hickman and Rock Bridge.