U.S. Army Top Performers: Laster, McFail, McNutt and Hubbard

Top Performers

APRIL 2017 – Each month Kansas City Sports & Fitness Magazine teams up with the U.S. Army to honor High School Top Performers. This month we visited Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia and Benton High School in St. Joseph to honor these Top Performers.

Micheal Laster, Smith-Cotton High School, Student/Athlete
There’s an expression in boxing that actually carries over to other types of competitive fighting: “styles make fights.”

That means that while one fighter might be stronger, or quicker or have better technique, at times that fighter can be at a disadvantage when facing a lessor opponent because of the inability to defend against certain techniques.

For example, a fighter with quicker hands might be able to beat a stronger, bigger fighter because he can land more blows before the “slugger” can get off a really devastating punch. If the quicker fighter can do enough damage, the puncher won’t ever have the chance to land a haymaker.

The same is true in wrestling, and this month’s top performer, Micheal Laster, used his defensive style to full advantage, advancing all the way to the state wrestling meet, where he placed in the top 6.

“On the bottom I’m not that great,” Laster said. “On top, I can hardly hold down anybody. I’ve put in a lot of work to make that better. But when I’m on my feet, my strength and technique come through. I do a lot of throws and hugs.

“My style pretty much stops every other style, except for people who are the same size and strength as me and have the ability to ‘shoot.’ I’ve tried to adopt a style to stop other styles. It’s kind of like the game ‘rock, paper, scissors.’ You can have someone who is fast and is everywhere vs. someone who is really slow but really strong. For the most part, the fast guy is going to win, unless the strong guy has better technique.”

Laster was selected as one of the Top Performers for March by the U.S. Army and Kansas City Sports & Fitness. “To me it means a whole lot,” Laster said. “I don’t think we (Smith-Cotton High School) have gotten one before. To get that award, and to have those Olympic wrestlers (the Mango brothers) come in, was really cool. There’s definitely a sense of pride.”

Laster started wrestling as a freshman in high school. His coach, Charles McFail, said Laster took to the sport very quickly.

“Coach Tommy Kindle is one of my assistants,” McFail said. “He took Micheal under his wing and got him going. Mike really stepped up his game the last couple of years. He’s a tough kid. He learned a few moves that we taught him. He learned how to use them to his advantage, to his strength and his style of wrestling.

“We finally convinced him this year that he had to wrestle his style. He did well at that. It’s a combination of strength and technique, but really his strength is a key. He’s kind of a slow, methodical wrestler who worked for an opportunity. As soon as that opportunity opened up, he attacked.

He was able to do that. Being patient really became a strength for him.”

Charles McFail, Smith-Cotton High School, Wrestling Coach
There are a lot of definitions for the term “success.” One is taking a tough situation and making it better. That one fits Smith-Cotton wresting coach Charles McFail.

McFail took over for Joel Sherman two seasons ago, and the Tigers are the back-to-back West Central Conference champions. The program had not had a wrestler medal in the state meet in nearly a decade, but this year one of their wrestlers (Micheal Laster) medaled in the state meet.

That success led to McFail being named the March recipient of Top Performers Coach award.
“It’s always nice to get recognized for what you do,” he said. “I got into coaching a long time ago. It’s more about what happens with the kids.

I believe that any honor you get with coaching comes from the kids you deal with and the kids you have on your team.

“I appreciate the recognition, but I feel like it’s all about the teams you put out there and the kids you put out there. That’s why we’re doing all this.”

But McFail recognizes that just having good athletes is not enough.

“I don’t want to take away from the job coaches do, myself or anybody else,” he said. “You have to be able to run a program. It’s one thing to get good kids, but you have to be able to do something with them. It takes a lot of hard work.

As coaches, that’s what it’s about. We do whatever we can to put the kids in the most
successful situations, from technique drills to conditioning and strength training. By doing that, you get recognition.”

McFail certainly has placed his wrestlers in a position to win since taking over two years ago. He was an assistant wrestling coach at Smith-Cotton for three years prior to that. A native of Sedalia, he’s also coached in Bethany, Mo., Plattsburg, Mo. and Clinton, Iowa.

As defending champions, McFail said he had to move the lineup around to make sure the Tigers could score the points where they were needed. His adjustments paid off, as they had 11 kids make all conference out of 14 weight classes.

McFail stepped down after the season to become Smith-Cotton’s head football coach this fall. With his approach to coaching, there’s little doubt that he will be successful in that as well.

Tage McNutt, Benton High School, Student/Athlete
Tage McNutt remembered how it felt to lose in the finals of the state wrestling tournament, even to a three-time state champion, and he was bound to make amends. A torn labrum was merely a bump in the road.

“It was tough and painful,” he said after winning the state title in the 195-pound weight class. “Fighting through the injury was tough, but it was worth it. There were times I thought I couldn’t go through it any more because it was so painful. But I stuck to it. I kept battling, and I accomplished my goals.”

McNutt was one of the Benton High School wrestling team leaders that has set a standard of excellence under head coach Brad Hubbard.

“He definitely brought a level of determination that you look for in your elite athletes,” Hubbard said. “Determination and perseverance were the two things that stand out in my mind. I knew that he was facing a potential injury that could have gotten in the way of him finishing his senior season. He was able to keep it together and be a leader in our practice room.

“Tage is one of those guys who leads by example. He’s a man of few words, but his actions speak volumes. There’s not a wrestler in our room that does not respect what he did and what he went through. Going to the state tournament knowing that one wrong turn here or there could end his season, he was able to lead his teammates. I could tell when he got to the state tournament that he was a man on a mission. It was impressive to sit back and watch him let it loose in the final.”

McNutt sees the results of that work, and he’s thrilled that he persevered. “I worked very hard, training every day to reach my goals,” he said. “It feels great getting this (Top Performers) award.”

He recognizes his leadership helped his teammates, and his long-term goal is to make that his profession. He wants to wrestle in college, and he’s narrowed down his choices to North Dakota State University, McKendree University, Cornell College, Lindenwood University and Michigan State. His older brother will be a senior this fall at North Dakota State, and that has a lure to it.

When he gets through competing, he wants to coach at the college level. Then he can help other wrestlers understand the work involved to turn a championship loss into a state title.

Brad Hubbard, Benton High School, Wrestling Coach
Brad Hubbard has accomplished a lot in his 10 years as the head wrestling coach at Benton High School. He has 120 career dual wins, 49 state qualifiers, 25 state medalists, seven state finalists and five state champions.

He’s had several kids who have gone on to wrestle in the national high school championships in Fargo, N.D., including one girl.

The team has finished in the top 10 in the state in class 2 four times, including this year. For his accomplishments, he was named as one of the Army’s  Top Performers for March.

“I was pretty humbled,” he said. “I thought it was a nice gesture. We’ve worked pretty hard over the last 10 years at Benton High School to build our program to the position where we could receive accolades like that. It was very well received.

“I am truly honored and want to thank the US Army for this award and everything they do to allow people like me to have this opportunity.”

The success is not just on the mat. In his tenure at Benton, he has coached 16 student-athletes who have been named academic all-state wrestlers. It’s been a slow building process, but Hubbard and his staff are well-entrenched.

When Hubbard arrived, there were eight wrestlers in the program. Now, there are 25 to 30 wrestlers every year.

One tradition Hubbard and his staff have used to build the program is recruiting athletes from other sports to excel at wrestling.

“We’re not afraid to take the athletes who haven’t been exposed to wrestling and convince them to give it a try,” he said. “This year, we had two young men who were state medalists who had never even seen a wrestling mat before high school. I think that’s a testament to our philosophy as a coaching staff, and how hard our kids and our coaches work in our program. It’s definitely been a process to get kids to buy in to wrestling. We’re seeing the fruits of that labor.”

State champion Tage McNutt believes the Benton High title tradition will continue with Hubbard at the helm.

“When Hubbard got there he turned our program around,” McNutt said. “We’ve gotten better and better and built on what we’ve done in the past. I think they’re going to get better after I leave.”

To read about other U.S. Army Top Performers in the KC Metro, visit: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/high-school/

Top Performers Article by David Smale

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