JACKSON -- Every year is a building year for the Jackson USA Wrestling club.
But this season, more than most, the club has placed a focus on involving and developing wrestlers in the younger age divisions.
"This year, we had a really young team overall," head coach Jeff Scott said. "Mark [Guilliams, club president] and some of the officers made a push to get several second-, third- and fourth-graders in the program, and we've had several good kids come in this year."
So while the Jackson club's contingent for the state championships March 29 and 30 at the Hearnes Center in Columbia will include 17 wrestlers -- four fewer than last year -- it includes 11 wrestlers in the 8-and-under and 10-and-under divisions.
"In a couple years, we should be solid from 14-and-under down to 8-and-under," Guilliams said.
The veterans include two of the club's three AAU triple crown winners, an honor for wrestlers who win the Missouri National Challenge, the Ozark AAU and Missouri AAU championships. Cody Morgan, a 14-year-old 140-pounder won it for the second straight year. Jarrett Reisenbichler, a 12-year-old 60-pounder, also won the three events, as did Cole Welker, an 8-year-old 65-pounder.
Morgan heads to Columbia as a regional champion in a tough weight class.
"I've made it to state two other times, but I've faced a kid that placed in the top five in the nation," Morgan said.
"He's had a good year, and I'm hoping he gets to the final," Guilliams said. "He's put in the time, and he deserves it."
Guilliams admires the commitment of his young wrestlers, who begin competing in November. Some even will take part in a summer program and compete in the Show Me State Games.
"I think this is the toughest youth sport," he said. "It takes a lot of dedication. It develops character and athletic ability like no other sport."
Still, with Guilliams' emphasis on getting youth involved, the Jackson club had the first growth spurt he wanted to achieve. The club grew from 52 members last year to more than 70 this year. And with the space becoming available in Jackson High School's Multipurpose Building, the club hopes to reach triple digits.
"We want to be a dominant factor in Missouri wrestling -- both in youth and high school," Guilliams said.