It’s a rebuilding season at Byron Nelson, with a new coach, a majority of new varsity wrestlers and a new wrestling style.
But unlike most teams in a rebuilding season, this one has already shown promise and success.
Nelson has already captured a tournament title and lost just two duals by the slimmest of margins while having to forfeit matches along the way. Imagine what could be accomplished with a full Nelson lineup.
First-year coach James Gillespie has been working with the squad which has just two seniors and lost a state qualifier from last year. Of the varsity’s starting 14 slots, just five were on the list last season. He has also been working to translate his style of wrestling to the team, which has made strides over the last few years.
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“They’re good at what they did,” Gillespie said of the talent prior to his arrival this season. “We didn’t rewrite the whole game book. I just taught them how to do things differently. We’re paying attention to the small things now and making minor adjustments.”
Gillespie said he’s not only teaching them new techniques, “but showing them why we do the things we do.”
The former Birdville coach learned wrestling in Oklahoma and went on to wrestle in college at Missouri State before a shoulder injury ended his career on the mat.
As it stands, the Bobcats have taken the Frisco Lone Star tournament championship and breezed by Flower Mound Marcus, Weatherford, Boswell and J.J. Pearce.
The Bobcats lost by the same spread of their forfeited match to powerhouse Flower Mound (a six-point difference), and just one point to Haltom, where they had to forfeit four matches.
“When I took over at Byron Nelson, people had heard of us, but thought Flower Mound would crush us,” Gillespie said.
“We need to find the big dogs and let them know we’re here. We may not beat them all, but we’re ready to test ourselves,” he said of looking for quality opponents.
Certainly, those opponents will come, including Frisco Centennial, Plano East and Lake Highlands prior to the district meet. Even the district tournament will be stacked with the likes of Saginaw, Azle, Argyle and Chisholm Trail.
The Outback Invitational at Weatherford gave a glimpse of some of the stronger 5A competition in the area, including Carroll, Keller and Fossil Ridge. The Bobcats wrestled sluggishly and finished in the middle of the pack.
Among those returning and performing well this season are Jimmy London and Blake Bunce, both state qualifiers last year.
Bunce, at 160 this season, has recorded a 13-0 record with all but one match coming by fall. The other win was a technical fall en route to the championship at Weatherford.
Nelson hopes to be at full strength when it meets the likes of Carroll and Keller Central in other upcoming competitions, not to mention the big rivalry match with Northwest.
With this likely to be the Bobcats’ last season in 4A, Gillespie has sights on accomplishing something special.
“We hope to do something big before our jump to 5A,” Gillespie said.
At the district meet, Nelson will see Boswell, Chisholm Trail, Azle, Argyle, Saginaw and Birdville.
Gillespie said he’s focusing his team on goals such as a district title when they host the tournament on Jan. 25 and then winning regional titles and even looking at crowning the school’s first wrestling state champion.
“The kids are still a long way from where we want to be,” Gillespie said, “but we’ve even had the largest crowd to attend a wrestling event at our intrasquad matches and we want to keep building on what we’ve got going.”