Wrestling Hornets debuting today at Pleasant Hill tournament

Returning state medalist Rader, two other state-tourney veterans headline boys’ roster; girls’ group reverts to four

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School's 2020-21 wrestling team is set to begin competition. The Hornets' varsity will open today (Saturday, Dec. 5) in the Steve Leslie Invitational tournament at Pleasant Hill. The girls'  squad will open in the Excelsior Springs Tournament Dec. 12.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

With a 2019-20 All-Stater leading the way and two other returnees with state-tournament experience, along with a group of sophomores who made strong impressions a season ago and a promising spate of freshmen with kids’ club and middle school experience, the Chillicothe High School wrestling Hornets are making their 2020-21 debut today – COVID-19 permitting – in the Steve Leslie Invitational tournament hosted by Pleasant Hill High School.

Leading the returning veterans contingent is senior lightweight Sheldon Rader.

He led last year’s team in bout wins with 35, 17 by fall, and capped his junior season by overcoming an opening-round loss in the Class 2 state tournament to win three bouts in a row and clinch an eventual sixth-place medal at 106 pounds.

According to head coach Chad Smith, Rader – also an Academic All-State wrestler last year – projects to begin this season in the 120-pounds weight class and eventually work his way down a spot to 113, where he’ll hope to become only CHS’ 16th 3-times state qualifier and 15th winner of multiple state medals.

Senior lightweight Sheldon Rader, sixth-place finisher at 106 pounds in the Class 2 state tournament last February as a junior, returns to lead the 2020-21 Chillicothe High School wrestling Hornets. Rader is expected to begin the season competing at 120 pounds, but then drop to 113 as the year moves along. The wrestling Hornets debut in the Steve Leslie Invitational tournament at Pleasant Hill today.

Hoping to join the ranks of those Hornets who have gone to the state tourney more than once will be two juniors – lightweight Aiden Zimmerman and heavyweight Christian Peniston.

Peniston, the reigning Midland Empire Conference champion at 285 pounds, made his inaugural state appearance last February, dropping both of his bouts there to complete a 28-14 season. He posted a team-high 19 wins by fall as a sophomore.

Zimmerman qualified for state at 113 pounds as a freshman, but lost out at the district level at 120 last season when he posted a 16-18 record. This year, he’s expected to be right on the lightweight-middleweight borderline, likely to start the year at 132 pounds, Smith indicates.

Among the other returnees who saw considerable varsity-level action last winter are sophomores Bryce Dominique and Brock Miller. Miller shared the team lead in wins by fall as a frosh, matching Peniston’s 19.

Both were in the Hornets’ district-tournament lineup – Miller at 170 pounds and Dominique at 138, with Miller coming up one win short of state advancement. Miller ended his ninth grade season an outstanding 25-13, record-wise, while Dominique went 15-13.

While Dominique currently is anticipated to remain at 138 pounds, Miller’s viewed as likely to move up to 182.

Additional 2020-21 sophomores foreseen to “help a lot,” according to Smith, are Lucas Reynolds (195), Wade Horton (220), Gavin Funk (126 ), Tristan Slattery (170, and Dawson Sutton (170).

Of that group, Slattery is the most-experienced, having gone 11-13 as a freshman. Funk was next-busiest, going 4-14, and Reynolds got into a dozen varsity bouts (7-5). Horton was 1-4 and Sutton 1-3.

They will be supplemented with, the head coach relates, “some talented freshman that have grown up wrestling in our kids’ club that we are excited to finally have in high school – Brody Cairns (projected at 160 pounds), Caden Larson (152),  and Lane McCoy (106).”

One would-be returnee – senior Evan Loucks – sustained major damage to a knee late in the football season and will miss the grappling campaign, Smith confirmed.

A few other potenial returnees, including some who were in last year’s district-tournament lineup, have decided not to participate this season.

All told, there currently are about 30 members of this year’s Hornets squad at season start.

On the still-fledgling girls’ side – in its third year as its own entity, Chillicothe drops back to four Lady Hornets, the number it had two years ago before doubling last year.

Of this year’s quartet, Abby Clements, Karyna Ireland, and Hailey Fahling have lettered each of the past two years. The fourth – sophomore Addison Lewis – also lettered in 2019-20.

Clements and Ireland shared last year’s Lady Hornets lead for bout wins with nine apiece. Clements had a team-most four wins by fall.

“This year’s girls’ team has the most experience that we have had,” coach Smith notes. “The girls have been working really hard and are much more prepared at this point in the season than previous years.”

With there being no girls’ division in today’s tournament at Pleasant Hill, the Lady Hornets won’t debut until the Dec. 12 Excelsior Springs Tournament.

Beginning his seventh season in charge of the Chillicothe High School wrestling program, Chad Smith (foreground) is 17 dual-match victories away from passing Doug Long as the mat Hornets head coach with the most dual wins in a career.

Currently the clear-cut leader in career winning percentage in CHS dual matches at 78% (118-33), Smith could become CHS’ all-time winningest head coach ever this season.

If the schedule plays out at its full planned extent, which – between COVID-19 and winter weather – isn’t likely to occur, the Hornets are due to have 17 regular-season duals plus three dual-format tournaments which probably would add another 15-20 matches to that number.

Entering his seventh season in charge of the CHS mat program, Smith stands 18 dual wins shy of equaling the total of 136 Doug Long amassed in two stints (1977-95 and 1999-20) totaling 19 years.