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El Dorado aiming to build off successful debut season

by Jason Avery | December 25, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

After a successful debut season that saw El Dorado have two conference champions, the school’s wrestling program is ready for its second season with a wealth of returners back aiming to improve from a year ago.

El Dorado will begin its second season on the mat at Lake Hamilton on Jan. 6.

“The ones that are coming back, they have hit the ground running,” said El Dorado coach Jimmy Johnson. “They did a good job during the summer and during the off periods keeping up and learned a little bit. Some of them even went to camps and tried to better themselves wrestling-wise as the summer and offseason went on.”

Dunte Maker and Brian Soto, who both reached the state quarterfinals, return for the Wildcats.

On the girls team, Lexus Powell, the defending 5A West champion in the 185-pound weight class, is back along with Katelyn Hayden, who was second in the 116-pound weight class at the conference meet.

“Dunte Maker is coming back. He had the most wins on the guys’ side for us,” Johnson said. “Ben McCoy wrestled for us, but he had something that happened and he had to leave for a little bit. He’s going to be a contributor. Brian Soto got injured last year, but he’s back. He’s gotten in the best shape of his life. He’s going to be pretty good in the 170 area. Tyler Finch is a returning guy that will do great things. Ethan Faith is a returning wrestler that took his lumps and also gave out lumps. He’s going to be ready to come back and go again this year.

“Katelyn Hayden was a very, very strong wrestler and Lexus Powell is also back. Taylor Hayes is also back. They will all be contributors. All of them won some last year, so hopefully it will be contagious and we’ll win more than we lose this year.”

Johnson said the numbers for the program are up from a year ago.

“We have quite a bit more,” Johnson said. “Last year, we had quite a bit, but they weren’t sure what wrestling was about. Once they realized there was quite a bit of conditioning and how tough it really is, some of them decided it wasn’t for them, which I’m not going to hold a grudge because it was the first time it ever happened.

“They didn’t know what they were getting into. Those that have come on have fallen in love with it and it’s catching. I think quite a few people are going to start doing it.”

Although EHS has several wrestlers back, there are also plenty of new faces that will be counted on this season.

“We have quite a few that are going to be vying for varsity positions because there are 14 weight classes for boys and 10 for girls,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can fill in all of those so we can have a complete team. Some of the new faces are going to be counted on right off the bat.”

El Dorado narrowly missed out on having a wrestler medal at the state meet last year, but Johnson believes that could change this season.

“We’re competing against schools that have kids that have started since elementary,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get the interest up. I expect everybody to improve and some of them may have a place on the podium at state.”

It would be easy to assume that the wrestlers would be behind since Johnson just finished his coaching duties with the football team, but that is not the case.

“Those that are bought in were very bought in,” Johnson said. “I gave them when the camps were or introduced them or called somebody for them or that kind of thing so they could get started. I gave them pamphlets when I got them so they would know who to go to or how to go to it. Some of them have gotten on the camp circuit like football players do in the summer. They were able to make the camp circuit and they keep up with who is good and who is bad and who they are going to be wrestling against all year.”

Johnson was pleased to see the team take the initiative during the offseason.

“There’s a reason,” Johnson said. “You can win a team championship, but when you go out there, it’s just you and one other person. You can’t say somebody didn’t pass me the basketball or somebody didn’t throw me a strike so I could hit a home run or somebody didn’t make a block for me or throw me the ball or they ran away from me. You can’t say any of that. It’s you versus them. They don’t like getting embarrassed.”

Johnson also has a new staff member with James Faith, the Arkansas state champion in the 160-pound weight class in 1988, serving as a volunteer assistant.

“Ethan wrestled for us last year, so when coach (Cherokee) Streetman and I were doing it, coach Faith was showing up and he was trying to figure out how he could help more,” Johnson said. “When coach Streetman moved, coach Faith said he was going to do the volunteer thing, so he went to the AAA (Arkansas Activities Association) and became a volunteer coach. I told him what I wanted, and he’s done that plus some. It makes my job easier.”

With Johnson working with the football team, Faith got the wrestlers ready.

“I told him that while he was doing football to let me get these boys and girls in shape, get them ready to go and that’s what I’ve been doing is working them, getting them in shape and going over the basic moves of what we need to know,” Faith said. “It’s a team sport, but it’s not a team sport. We can win a championship as a team, but it’s more individual.

“When you get to state, your team can be there and the team can win a state championship, but you can also win an individual championship in your weight class. I tell them everyday because I push them and have been working them for a few weeks now, I told them, ‘If this was easy, everybody at the high school would be over here trying out for the wrestling team.’ There’s football shape, there’s baseball shape, there’s track shape, but then there’s wrestling shape, and it’s a totally different thing.”

As far as other schools to keep an eye on, Johnson said EHS will face stiff competition from Lake Hamilton, Greenwood and Sylvan Hills.

“Greenwood is always great, Lake Hamilton is always great, Sylvan Hills is very good,” Johnson said. “The fact that Greenwood and Lake Hamilton are near schools that wrestle is very beneficial to them. Ouachita is close to Lake Hamilton, and the son of Ouachita’s head wrestling coach goes to Lake Hamilton, so they have ties there. They get to go get some lessons and that kind of stuff. Greenwood goes over to Oklahoma and Texas quite often.

“There’s a reason they’re good and there’s a reason why they started out very early. They have third- and fourth-graders that wrestle. They’re always very, very good. Sylvan Hills has just now started late elementary school wrestling, so those that are good are very good, and there’s a reason for it. That’s where we want to be.”

Faith recalled the difference between wrestling today and how it was when he competed.

“We wrestled against everybody,” Faith said. “It didn’t matter how big the school was. We would go over to Memphis and wrestle Christian Brothers, go up and wrestle schools in Missouri. We would come down to Little Rock and wrestle against the Arkansas School for the Blind. It wasn’t real big then, but we wrestled everybody. That’s why I tell these kids now that I want a schedule to where we can go and wrestle against the Arkansas School of the Blind because those are some of the hardest wrestlers in the state. Most of them have been wrestling since they were little and because they can’t see, other parts become stronger. They can really wrestle.”

If El Dorado is to improve on their debut season, Johnson said his team must learn and grow from every competition.

“Each time you go out, you have got to learn and use it to your advantage,” Johnson said. “Every time you get a chance, go 100 percent because I promise the person you’re going against is going to go 100 percent. They’re not going to take it easy. Our key is to improve every time we get on the mat, learn from mistakes that we might make along the way and in the end, go as far as you possibly can in the state championship. That’s all we can ask for.”

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