The Grain Valley wrestling program has been a successful one in recent years.
The Eagles have had multiple state medal winners, including six last season between the girls and boys teams.
Coming into the 2023-24 season, the boys program returns several key wrestlers and the girls get back nearly the entire team as both look to make some noise.
“I think we can make a pretty solid run this year,” Grain Valley head coach Donald Horner said. “Obviously, we always have high aspirations and we hold ourselves to a high standard.”
On the boys side, the Eagles lost medal winners Tanner Barker and Dru Azcona to graduation along with multiple-time state qualifier Brock Smith and Tyler Groves, who had a breakout season in 2022-23 with a 36-7 record and a state appearance.
Despite losing part of its core, Horner has some key piece returning to his team and has some newcomers from the junior varsity squad who will enter the fold.
Senior Gavin Parks will be one of the key returners for the Eagles this season as he took fourth at the state tournament last season and finished with a 37-8 record in the 120-pound weight class. He missed out on going to state his sophomore year due to a concussion he had late in the season.
However, he had a breakout year in 2022-23, qualifying for the state tournament for the first time. During the offseason, he said he’s been working on setting up his shots and being more physical with his hand times. For this season, he wants to go out with a bang.
“I think I have a shot at the gold medal this year,” Parks said. “I fell short the past two years, I am ready to get it this year.”
Sophomore Zac Bleess is someone who will be an important returner. He made an immediate impact last season, taking sixth at the state tournament in the 113-pound weight division.
He is a competitor who wrestles year round and competes at several local and out-of-town freestyle and Folkstyle tournaments. He said he is constantly working on perfecting his craft in the sport and is hoping for even more success this season.
“It’s less about my moves, and it’s more about my mindset,” Bleess said when talking about improvements he focused on during the offseason. “I want to focus on how I attack a match.
“I have my sights on making the (state) finals, but really I am trying to focus on myself and how I do in the practice room and everything else will take care of itself.”
Senior Justin Deweese is another Eagle wrestler that has seen some recent success. He has qualified for the state tournament the past two seasons and ended 2022-23 with a 28-11 record in the 157-pound division.
This year, he will have a chance to get his first state medal.
“I have been working on my takedowns this offseason and getting better at setting them up and finishing them,” Deweese said. “I want to give it my all and see how the season goes.”
Other returners who saw some varsity time on the mat last year include Colston Parks, Ethan Jones. Aden Kisner, Mason Bertrand, Collin Burd and Gavin Barker.
Other who could possibly step into the lineup include Ryan Schmalzbach, Caine Nelson, Sjoeren Aumua Chase Brenner and Trent Rock.
“There’s still a lot of raw talent in this program,” Parks said. “I am excited to grow together with them.”
It was just three seasons ago when Sevreign Aumua was the only girls wrestler on Grain Valley.
Now, she is joined by 11 others as the girls side continues to grow in numbers for the Eagles.
“The growth of the girls program is really exciting,” Horner said. “I have so little to do with it. The girls recruit the other girls. The girls wrestling is going to continue to grow because they are so successful.”
Added Aumua: “I am really excited, and I am glad our team is growing. We’re going to have a good team.”
Aumua is someone who has had the most success as she has two state titles and a third-place medal under her belt. Last season, she completed her first undefeated season at 35-0 and pinned Madeline Haynes in the finals to earn her second state championship.
She has even started wrestling freestyle for the first time in the offseason as she aims to land with a college program.
“I am working on perfecting what I already do and hopefully take that to college,” Aumua said. “I am still visiting colleges and looking around.
“I also want to get as many girls as I can to come to state with me.”
Jayden Moehle went to state tournament with Aumua last season and placed fourth despite having one of the toughest brackets in Class 2.
She finished with a 24-11 record in a successful freshman campaign, and she said her experience going against tough competitors should help her have more success in 2023-24.
“I did exceed my expectations,” Moehle said. “I approached last season, thinking that I was going to do my best and ended up with a state medal. I am super proud.
“This season, my sights are set on getting to the finals. The competition I faced last year has definitely helped me.”
Other returners include Mckenzie Davis, Camary Schmalzbach, Addison Cross and Adalia Del Real. Newcomers entering the team are Valerie Bleess, Lucy Dampf, Cecilia Del Real and Jaeda Simpson.