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story.lead_photo.caption Bahshi Traylor is one of the returning starters for the Capital City Cavaliers wrestling team this season. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

An improved strength of schedule, a fully returning team and another year of experience.

Capital City wrestling coach Mitch Werdehausen said he is hoping those factors will help lead the Cavaliers to more district and state success.

"Our overall goals are to get a lot of young guys that need to keep learning, older guys who have had three of four years of varsity experience to start giving us some results and we got a lot of returners that have a lot of experience," Werdehausen said. "Hopefully they can pull together and have a successful season."

The strength of schedule comes from adding December team tournaments like the Missouri Duals as well as tougher local competition, while also adding individual tournaments such as the Raytown South Christmas Invitational.

"Those will give us a good outlook of where we're at as a team," Werdehausen said. "Then we also have some individual tournaments to see where we're at individually. Fort Zumwalt North being the first one, then we move on to Raytown South, which is in Kansas City. I'm trying to also schedule teams across the state so we get to see different programs."

The added experience comes from a roster with its first nine seniors, as well as six juniors, who will fill most of the lineup, which Werdehausen said is mostly set for the season opener at 6 p.m. today at Union.

Austin Feely will slot in at 106, Sterling Wheatley at 113 and AJ Kempker at 120 will control the lighter weights for the Cavaliers.

Ethyn Otto takes the lead at 152 with either Eli Jenkins or Jabari Hubbard will be 160 with the other at 170 and Matt Boyer will stay at 182 to run the middle weights for Capital City.

Those seven will be led by senior Wheatley, competing again at 113 where he wrestled during the Class 4 District 6 tournament last year, and junior Jenkins, who is moving up from 145.

Capital City also has two wrestlers with state tournament experience in senior Ian Nelson (285) and junior Hurley Jacobs (220). Jacobs faced two opponents in the 2020 182-pound bracket, while Nelson was forced to injury default.

"Sterling Wheatley is stepping up," Werdehausen said. "He's a senior and has been with us, with me, for three years. He's stepping up kind of leading the team and Elijah Jenkins, a junior, he put a lot of work in in the offseason. Every year, he comes out looking better and better. Ian Nelson and Hurley Jacobs, have helped lead the pack and keep everybody focused and goal oriented."

Those goals, both individually and teamwise, will be to have more success in the Class 3 District 4 Tournament than the Cavaliers' had in last year's Class 4 District 6 tournament and Class 4 Sectional 3 tournament, which was an additional tournament brought about for COVID-19 based reasons.

Three Cavaliers finished second in the District 6 tournament, while two finished third and two took fourth, all advancing to the Sectional 3 round.

After taking second at 195 pounds, Bahshi Traylor took fourth in the sectional tournament, just missing the cutoff for the state tournament, while after finishing second at 145 pounds, Jenkins faced two opponents in the sectional.

Eli Schuemann (126) placed third then won one sectional match, while Feely (106), went from placing third in districts to facing two opponents at sectionals.

Both Kempker (120) and Wheatley (113) placed fourth in districts and faced two opponents in the sectional tournament.

"We're focusing more on conditioning in the morning," Werdehausen said. " So we come in more conditioned. And this season, I increased our strength of schedule to see some better competition, so when we get to districts, we are more prepared than we might have been in the past."

Werdehausen said one of the keys he is looking for early in the season is mental toughness. With last season extended a month, he said some of the wrestlers were drained by season's end and he's hoping that an increase in focus both extended throughout the season and within a match, will help lead to more success.

"We're conditioning hard, so that'll help them build that mental toughness up," Werdehausen said. "When they get in tough matches, hopefully they'll have that drive to keep pushing and pull out a couple of wins that were hard fought and well deserved. I believe a lot of our guys are right on that threshold of being really good and we just have to break over, we've got to get over another hump to get there."

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