Jeremy Phillips' goal was to bring home a team trophy from the 2012 Kansas City Stampede.
The Neosho wrestling team took fifth place in one of the most talent-stacked tournaments in the country this weekend at Hale Arena at the American Royal Grounds in Kansas City, Mo.
To gauge the talent in the field, just take this into account.
The tournament featured seven teams ranked in the top 50 across the country according to InterMatwrestle.com's Fab 50: No. 13 Allen, Tex., 20 Collinsville, Okla., 23 Tuttle, Okla., 26 Edmond North, Okla., 30 Kearney, Mo., 33 Blue Springs, Mo., and 38 Bettendorf, Iowa. Also in the field were three other teams that won state championships last year in their respective state's — Arkansas City, Kan., defending Stampede champion Collins Hill, Ga., and Skutt Catholic from Omaha, Neb.
There were 10 states represented at the tournament, 36 schools, 172 state qualifiers, 111 state medalists, 29 state champions and 26 Fargo All-Americans.
In previous trips to the tournament, the Wildcats have finished second and fifth. The last time the Wildcats took fifth (2009-10) at this event they went on to win a state championship — and when they took second (2010-11) they won another state title.
They're hoping that trend continues in 2013.
"Before we left Friday morning I asked the guys to reevaluate the team goal they'd set of top eight for this tournament," Wildcats coach Jeremy Phillips said. "I told them that we'd brought home hardware the two years we won state titles, and it was an obtainable growth. We wrestled really well. I'm proud of them. We showed a lot of growth throughout the two days."
This year's team title went to Collinsville, who had 460.5 points. Blue Springs, Edmond North and Park Hill followed, and Neosho joined in with 407.5 points to round out the top five.
Three Neosho wrestlers made the championship of their respective weight classes and the Wildcats came back with a title.
Nate Rodriguez (132 pounds) had little problems in his last three matches, all against some of the best wrestlers from three different states.
In his title match, the senior secured an 8-2 decision over Will Steltzen (Collinsville, Okla.), in a battle of two-time state champions. Steltzen entered ranked as the No. 1 wrestler in the 138-pound class in 5A.
In the semifinals, Rodriguez won by decision, 5-0, over Logan Ryan of Bettendorf, Iowa, who was the preseason Nationals runner-up this year. In the quarterfinals, Rodriguez defeated Tevin Briscoe by pin at the 3:36 mark. Briscoe, from Garden City, Kan., is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in Class 6A.
Both Kyler Rea and Christian Lopez finished as runner-ups.
Rea (106) found his nemesis in the field in Collinsville, Okla.'s Christian Moody.
Rea lost in the title match, 3-1, to Moody, who also handed him a loss earlier in the tournament, 3-1. The freshman won six matches, including two in overtime in the championship portion, which included a 5-4 victory over Beau Guffey of Tuttle, Okla., in the semifinals.
Page 2 of 3 - Lopez (220) lost by major decision, 9-0, to Edmond North's Andrew Dixon in the championship match. Wilson, the No. 5-ranked wrestler in the country and No. 1 in his class in Class 6A Oklahoma, led 1-0 going into the fourth quarter before securing eight points in the final two minutes.
After earning a first-round bye, Lopez rattled off six wins to reach the finals. His wins include a 7-3 decisionover Dylan Cox of Arkansas City, Kan., the No. 5-ranked wrestler in Class 5A.
Junior Jacob Brock (182) finished fifth, despite losing only one match.
Brock won four straight to reach the quarterfinals but was pinned by Jake Anderson of the Omaha-based Creighton Prep at the 2:33 mark. Brock responded with three more wins to claim a medal.
In the consolation bracket, he recorded a 5-2 win over Zac Moore of Southmoore High (Moore, Okla.), who entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in Class 6A.
In the place match, Brock recorded all of his points in the second period, of a 3-2 win over Farmington's Ryan Wadlow.
River Buttram and Aaron Clardy both placed seventh.
Buttram, a 120-pound senior, racked up seven wins this weekend. He edged Zac D'amico (Southmoore), 2-1. D'Amico tied the match 1-1 in the third period, before Buttram got an escape in the final 30 seconds to win.
Buttram had wins in his first five matches and his only setbacks came against Waynesville's Andrew Wallace and Seckman's Weston Basler.
Clardy (285) placed seventh and earned six wins this weekend, ending with a pin over Nate Wade of Perry, Okla. At the time of the fall, Clardy led 2-1.
Clardy had six wins — his first loss coming at the hands of Stoughton's Jessie Nelson, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in Division I in Wisconsin.
Neosho lost sophomore Sam Williams (152) to injury on Saturday after a roaring start.
Williams up to that point has recorded four wins — including a bye — to reach the quarterfinals against Blue Springs' Cain Salis, ranked No. 15 in the country. Salis — a Class 4 state champion in 152 pound last year — won by injury default in the match.
Williams then forfeited his final three matches of the day and settled for 12th place. His loss was particularly hard as the Wildcats were just seven points out of fourth place.
Phillips said, "We battled through adversities by bouncing back after some tough losses, and embraced challenges very well. (Williams) would have made that ground up plus, but I'd rather be healthy when it matters most."
Austin Haley (170) placed 13th after he nipped Oak Grove's Taylor Brinegar, 2-1, in their place match. Haley finished with five wins in the tournament and didn't suffer a loss until he ran up against Nathan Marek of Southmoore, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the Oklahoma state rankings in this weight class.
Page 3 of 3 - Other wrestlers who earned wins in the tournament were: John Williams (113 pounds-2 wins); Dakota McGarrah (126-6); Jason Box (138-5); Kyle Hostetter (145-4); Chance Branstetter (160-6); Ben Elledge (195-4).