There’s a reason why Lee’s Summit High is a wrestling power again, coach Jay McGovern says. It goes beyond having the talent, dedication and discipline that the sport demands.
The Tigers, McGovern says, feel like they are one big happy family.
“This is a really fun group of guys to be around,” McGovern said. “They like hanging around each other and we enjoy being around them. Our practices are fun because of that.”
And McGovern expects the fun to continue this weekend, as the Tigers compete in the Missouri Class 4, District 4 tournament at Blue Springs South. Lee’s Summit North will compete in the same district meet, in which the top four finishers in each weight class will move on to the state meet Feb. 20-22 in Columbia.
Lee’s Summit West will travel to Waynesville for the District 3 meet.
McGovern has overseen a rapid turnaround in the Lee’s Summit program. In his first two seasons, the Tigers struggled to field full lineups for duals. But this season, the Tigers posted a 14-5 dual record and won their first Suburban Conference Gold championship since 1996.
McGovern wanted to emphasize teamwork in the Tigers’ wrestling room because he believes a team concept helps every wrestler get better. He wanted wrestlers dedicated to helping each other improve and that’s just what he got – as soon as they learned to trust him.
“From the start I knew these kids had seen a lot of different coaches and a lot of different systems,” McGovern said. “It’s hard to trust a new guy versus one who’s been around a long time. But I just said, ‘Hey, look, I just want to help you win. It’s not about me, it’s about what you can do to get better and win now.”
And Lee’s Summit did get better. Three wrestlers carry 30-win records into districts, led by senior Alan Olivas, who is 35-4 at 126 pounds. Senior Cortland Allen is 31-7 at 132, as is junior Brady Davis at 160. Olivas, Allen and Davis all qualified for state last season.
McGovern said Olivas is an example of how far the Tigers have come.
“Alan has gone from being beaten by almost everybody to beating all those same guys,” McGovern said. “He keeps pressing and pressing and a lot of his opponents can’t handle it.”
Olivas credited the camaraderie in the wrestling room for much of his success. The Tigers have grown closer, he said, especially after attending camps in the summer.
“We’ve formed a relationship like a family,” Olivas said. “We came a lot closer in duals and tournaments, and when it came to close matches we were always supporting each other.”
Olivas and the Tigers will need that support this weekend as they fight through one of the tougher Class 4 districts in the state. Besides host Blue Springs South, the district also includes the always-tough Blue Springs and Park Hill squads.
“We’ve seen all the tough teams,” McGovern said. “They aren’t afraid of them, they just need to go out and perform now.”
Lee’s Summit North will have two returning state qualifiers at Blue Springs South in Austin Hanson and Keegan McCormick. Hanson is 32-3 this season at 113 pounds and McCormick is 31-6 at 145.
“Hopefully the kids will wrestle their best this time of year, because that is what it is going to take to continue to advance to the state tournament next week,” North coach Cameron Clover said.
Lee’s Summit West’s road to state will be tough, too – and longer. West coach Ethan Hauck said his team wasn’t thrilled about its 4 ½-hour bus ride to Waynesville, the longest trip for any team for a district meet.
“We will make the most of it by stopping at MU in Columbia and getting a workout in at their wrestling facility, which will be nice,” Hauck said.
West will have four wrestlers looking for another shot at state: Junior Austin Eveler, 41-2 at 132, sophomore Jake Woods, 42-3 at 138, junior Tyler Nelson, 27-3 at 195 and sophomore Lawyer Beckum, 37-7 at 126. Eveler placed second at 120 at state last season.
“Although we will be taking a young team to the district tournament, they are much more seasoned than the one we took a year ago,” Hauck said. “This district stands to be the toughest this year with the greatest number of returning state qualifiers, but I believe our young men are up for the task.”