By BEN JOHNSON
Conferences victories are often over-valued by high school coaches in all sports. The same could even be said for winning at the Maverick Conference Tournament, which starts today and will run through Saturday.
But where wins at the Maverick Conference Tournament at the Hughes Event Center in Wagoner will matter will be in seeding meetings at regional sites before postseason wrestling begins in late February.
“At some weights, this tournament is important for us for seeding purposes at regionals,” said Keys coach Travis Kirby, who will have five wrestlers competing at the varsity level at the Maverick Conference Tournament.
Same goes for Brad Jones’ wrestlers at Sequoyah.
“Hopefully we can find a win against a tough kid,” Jones said, “which will help us in regional seeding.”
Hulbert will join both Keys and Sequoyah as three Cherokee County teams in the conference tournament. Rounding out the field will be Wagoner, Checotah, Fort Gibson, Jay, McAlester, Okmulgee, Poteau, Quinton, Sallisaw, Stilwell, Talihina, Vian, Cleveland, Greenwood (Ark.) and Van Buren (Ark.).
For Hulbert’s Bryson McGowan, a little redemption is afoot after coming short in the 195-pound championship match against Vian’s Cale Mays last season at the Maverick Conference Tournament in Stilwell.
“It’ll be tough,” said McGowan, who will be at 220 pounds at this year’s tournament. “But I’m looking forward to some tough matches.”
Seth Fritts — who was Keys’ first-ever state qualifier for the Cougars last season — missed last season’s Maverick Conference Tournament due to a knee injury. This year, he’s healthy and will wrestle at 160 pounds this weekend.
But to Fritts, the Maverick Conference Tournament is just another tune-up before the Class 3A regional tournament.
“This weekend is really just another tournament,” said Fritts, who is coming off a first-place finish at the Carman Classic in Pawhuska last weekend. “Nothing matters until regionals. That’s when everything starts to count.”
Both Jones and Kirby know regionals is when all the chips are on the table, so a solid performance this week could enhance both team’s chances of getting more state qualifiers.
“We get to see a lot of different teams from different classifications,” Kirby said. “Some weights will be tough, and some not so tough. So it’s a great tournament to go compete at before regionals.”
Said Jones: “It will definitely be a good tournament with competition all around, something we need to see before we get to regionals.”
Maverick Conference Tournament - Wrestlers to watch
- Seth Fritts (Keys): As a freshman, Fritts qualified for the Class 3A state tournament, where he didn’t place at 138 pounds. This year, at 160 pounds, Fritts has won two tournament titles at Inola and Pawhuska. Fritts also came in fourth at the Tuttle tournament.
- Bryson McGowan (Hulbert): A third-place finisher last year at the 3A state tournament, McGowan has bumped up a weight class to 220 this year. So far so good with two tournament crowns at Inola and Pawhuska.
- Derick Shrum / Jesse Hodge (Jay): Both Hodge (113) and Shrum (132) have first-place finishes at the Inola tournament and the Paul Post Classic in Sallisaw. Shrum was a third-place finisher at the state tournament last year.
- Donald Cannon (McAlester): A 5A state champion at 120 pounds last season, Cannon is up to 126 this season. So far this year he’s finished second at the Mid-America Nationals and first at the McAlester tournament.
- Cale Wilson (Sallisaw): At 182 pounds, Wilson has picked up where he left off last year, which ended with a state championship in 4A. In three tournaments this season, Wilson’s only non-first place finish was at Cushing.
- Jadon Davenport (Sallisaw): A two-time state champion, Davenport has been dominant this season. Davenport has individual titles at Bristow, Tuttle, Cushing and Paul Post this season. Davenport will also get a chance to win a Maverick Conference title after missing last year’s tournament because of an illness.
- Mickey Brown (Stilwell): As a sophomore, Brown has emerged onto the scene as a legitimate state title contender at heavyweight. Brown has cruised to individual titles at Inola, Tuttle and the Paul Post this season.