The Muscatine wrestling team is expecting bigger and better things in the 2017-18 season, and that starts with its biggest and most proven wrestler.
Senior heavyweight Nolan Bell, fresh off a 27-11 season and a trip to the state tournament, became the school's first Mississippi Athletic Conference champion since 2011 last winter.
However, it more than just the return of Bell that’s given Muscatine coach Joe Kane confidence entering his second season at the helm.
Kane sees the possibility of the Muskies qualifying more than one wrestler for the state tournament, something they haven’t done since 2010.
“I think we have four or five guys that can say state is a realistic goal,” Kane said. “I wouldn’t being saying that if we didn’t have the personnel for it, but I legitimately think we have four or five guys that should be wrestling in Des Moines this year.”
Outside of Bell, the Muskies return seniors Gavyn Ashley and Carter Oldfield, who both won more than 18 matches as juniors.
Ashley likely will wrestle in the 152 or 160-pound weight class, while Oldfield will either be at 160 or 170.
With Dalton Sell likely to slot in at 195 and either Ethan Watkins, Shane Mathias or Brandon Bryan battling it out for the 220 slot, Kane said his five upper weight classes are filled with talent and experience that will likely be the driving force for the Muskies this season.
There is, however, some talented youth in the lineup.
“I think I have some seniors who are ready to make a name for themselves,” Kane said. “I also think I have some juniors who are doing the right thing and some sophomores that have made that jump from junior varsity.”
The Muskies will not be able to fill the 106 or 113-pound weight class, but sophomores Brady Holmes, Kuinton Middagh and Carson Harder will make up the following three weight classes. Both sophomore Takpor Tiah and freshman Tim Nimely are currently competing for varsity spots while Ryan Townsend will slot into 152 or 160.
With all the youth in the lower weight classes, it’s no surprise Kane says the Muskies need to “clean up some things and make some improvements." He’s also encouraged with the way they’ve responded to being pushed by the coaching staff in the offseason and in practice.
Kane believes the trust in the coaching staff and the team camaraderie he’s seen thus far stems from their productive summer, something he didn’t have the luxury of having last season because he took over the program in August.
But Kane believes his first offseason with the Muscatine wrestlers was a necessity to have a chance to compete in eastern Iowa.
“Our guys got a lot of open mats and attended several camps,” Kane said. “We’re definitely looking to take another step this year in the right direction. I was optimistic with how last year went, but I’m definitely hungry for more.”
As long as the Muskies buy into the process and are able to execute in competitive situations, Kane believes his team has the potential to do more than just compete in eastern Iowa. They can make a serious impact.
“I think we have the guys to do it,” Kane said. “I think I’m pushing them to get to that next level, we want to break through.
"We want to get to that top fleet in the conference. We want to bring home some state medals. That’s kind of where our heads are at.”