It was an uphill battle, but a small Collins-Maxwell wrestling team made the most of its first year as a program in 2017-18.

Spartan head wrestling coach Mike Leslie had coached Collins-Maxwell-Baxter before the split last year and even then he had problems filling a roster. With just Collins-Maxwell students available this season, the Spartans couldn’t fill even half of the weight classes.

“Our biggest challenge this year and the last couple of years has been numbers,” Leslie said. “This affected us yet again this year due to injuries, coupled with the fact that we started the year with only seven wrestlers.”

To make matters worse, Collins-Maxwell was forced to remain a Class 2A program for the postseason instead of dropping down to 1A after Colo-NESCO joined with the Spartans for wrestling. But no Colo-NESCO wrestlers competed at the varsity level.

“We (were) hoping to get two or three wrestlers, which bumped us up to 2A, but (we) did not get any high school wrestlers to come join us from there,” Leslie said. “This made duals hard against other schools with small lineups due to weights not lining up.”

But despite the huge challenges, Collins-Maxwell still managed to win multiple duals, going 3-18. Individually, the Spartans had two wrestlers advance through sectionals into districts, with both falling just short of making state.

“I think our overall outlook on this season would be good,” Leslie said. “I really thought we had the possibility at the end of last season to possibly get one or two guys to state. We fell short of my prediction, but did get two third place finishes at districts.”

Collins-Maxwell wrestlers defeated their former teammates in Baxter on two occasions during dual competition. The Spartans topped the Bolts by a 36-18 score at the Ken Estling Bluejay Duals in Bondurant to open the season, and they also scored a 36-12 win over them in a triangular with the two teams and Colfax-Mingo on Jan. 9.

The other Collins-Maxwell dual victory was a 24-18 triumph over Belle Plaine on Jan. 4.

“This season, the most enjoyable part would have to be able to win three duals and had a few more that were close,” Leslie said. “This was not even a thought for us at the beginning of the year with the small numbers.”

Individually, Collins-Maxwell was led by junior Caleb Fullerton and freshman Jacob Pierick. They were the two individuals to advance to districts.

Fullerton went 26-9 at 138 pounds. He had 16 pins, three technical falls and two wins by major decision.

During 2A sectionals at Huxley, Fullerton defeated Nevada’s Emilio Saldana by major decision in the semifinals, 11-1. Fullerton then lost in the finals to eventual state runner-up Jarrett Miller of Ballard by fall to place second and make districts.

At districts, Fullerton suffered a heartbreaking loss by fall to Clarion-Goldfield-Dows’ Reed Abbas in the semifinals after building a 14-4 lead early in the third period. Fullerton bounced back to pin Algona’s Cole Johnson in three minutes, 23 seconds during the third-place match, but he had to settle for third and just miss making state.

Pierick finished 20-14 with nine pins, wrestling primarily at 106.

Pierick took second at sectionals after losing to Webster City’s Reece Sadler in the semifinals by fall. He rebounded to pin Ballard’s Jordan Thomas in 1:02 during the third-place match, then won a wrestleback by fall over Gilbert’s Nate Vanderwerff in 3:48. At districts, Pierick lost by fall to Pocahontas Area/Logan-Magnolia’s Jacob Mielke, gained revenge against Sadler in the third-place match with a fall in 1:28, then lost by fall to Clarion-Goldfield-Dows’ Tyler Stein in a wrestleback to settle for third.

David Dolph, Cody Galbraith and Zach Martinez were the other Collins-Maxwell players to wrestle at sectionals.

Dolph went 4-13 as a freshman, wrestling primarily at 120. Galbraith was the team’s lone senior, finishing 9-22 at 182 with six pins, one technical fall and one major decision.

“Cody Galbraith’s quiet leadership will be missed,” Leslie said. “He was always there getting warm-ups started without being asked, which is something that really helped out us coaches.”

Martinez joined the team late in the season, finishing 0-6 at 220.

Freshman Rylee Scott and sophomore Carter Davis also competed during the season for the Spartans. Scott was 4-9 at 145 and Davis 9-10, competing mainly at 106.

With the experience of Fullerton and Pierick back to lead the way, Leslie expects the Spartans to be competitive in 2018-19.

“I think we will be better off numbers-wise if the incoming freshman all go back out, along with picking up a few others that should have wrestled this year,” Leslie said. “This will help us a out a lot, since the weights are spread out well.”

“We should also be able to be more competitive in duals, along with bringing back two district qualifiers who know what it takes to wrestle at that level,” Leslie said. “This will help bring our incoming and new wrestlers along to assist in building for the future.”