Neosho senior Joey Williams saw parallels between Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips and Maryville University head coach Mike Denney, and that’s why Williams chose the NCAA Division II Saints for his collegiate destination to further his academic and athletic career.

“Coach Denney and Coach Phillips are very similar in coaching style and how they’re organized,” Williams said, “and just the way the program’s run is very similar. Just went up there and it was a really good fit. I knew that’s where I wanted to go for a while, so I decided to go ahead and get it done.

“Coach Denney’s personality. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s personable, a good Christian guy, I mean he was definitely a big factor in my decision.”

Maryville’s current roster features former Seneca High standout and Missouri transfer Will Roark and the Saints just graduated former Neosho High stalwart Nate Rodriguez, who culminated his outstanding collegiate wrestling career with a NCAA-II national title at 141 pounds.

“Nate and I wrestled all summer,” Williams said. “He put me in connection with Coach Denney.”

“The people there were part of it,” Williams added, “but it was really just the whole environment at Maryville that I just fell in love with. D2 is kind of a step down from D1, but they still have tough kids. That’s why I went there, because I decided it’s a good fit for me.”

Williams joins his older brother Sam in signing with a collegiate wrestling program. Older brother finished his freshman season at Army West Point last season with a 6-4 overall mark at 141 pounds.

“Nothing that he has done, whether it be in the classroom or on the mat, has been easy for him,” Phillips said of the younger brother. “A great testament to a work ethic and persistence and what it will do for you and where it will take you. He makes me very, very proud and he’s the one that has evolved from, as I put on his card, a boy to a man to a warrior. Again, it comes back to that work ethic and persistence.

“He’s set goals for himself that have been very challenging. I think his older brother kinda made it to where he (Joey) wanted to be like older brother and was very driven to do better than older brother, which is a great thing. But, now, instead of living in Sam’s shadow so to speak, I think that he has made a name for himself and he has done very well with overcoming. … I truly believe his best is yet to come.”

Joey Williams’ name for himself includes being a two-time conference champion, a one-time district champion, a two-time state qualifier, and a state medalist last season. He’s played a role in Neosho’s current reign in Class 3.

“It will be good,” Williams said. “I will be excited to finish up my senior year and head to college. I’ve had Coach Phillips as a coach my whole life and it’s like I’ve been doing the same thing my whole life. It’s been a good experience.”

The Wildcats have never been content to rest on their previous success and have established a new motto for the upcoming season.

“It’s kaizen,” Williams said. “It’s basically working efficiently with the time that you have. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but it’s a Japanese business term, that’s where it comes from.”

“Kaizen — Continuous Improvement” is the philosophical bent behind Neosho wrestling this season and it boils down to “Nothing is ever seen as a status quo — there are continuous efforts to improve which result in small, often unnoticeable, changes over time. These incremental changes add up to substantial changes over the long term, THAT ARE NOTICEABLE AND VISIBLE TO THOSE ON THE OUTSIDE IN THE END.”

The Neosho wrestling family recently went through the death of a former standout wrestler and Philips touched on how much Williams helped the coach and how much they helped each other.

“Been one going through some trying times, some challenges myself,” Phillips said. “He and I shared through text message some scripture. He was in a sermon at church and he shared with me something, and then I shared with him the message I got from my sermon at church, and went back and forth. While I always look to inspire my athletes, they do the same for me. I just want to acknowledge that and recognize him for being there for me and helping me through some tough times. Hopefully, he will continue to excel and I look forward to seeing what he will do for the living legend, Coach Denney, at Maryville.”