The Neosho wrestling team, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3, spent the Christmas weekend in Illinois, where they brought home fourth place as a team at the 52nd William ‘Red’ Schmitt Holiday Tournament.
The Wildcats, who finished between Archer and Lincoln-Way West, brought home a team score of 409 points. Rounding out the top-five team scores for the tournament were: 1, Christian Brothers (Memphis, Tenn.) 665; 2, Lincoln-Way Central 598; 3, Archer 594.5; 4, Neosho 478.5; 5, Lincloln-Way West 409.
Nate Rodriguez, the No. 20 wrestler in the nation according to InterMat Wrestling rankings, suffered his first defeat of the season in the 132-pound championship match where he fell to Chris Wilkes of Whitfield (Ill.) in a 5-2 decision. Rodriguez pinned his previous seven opponents and pushed his overall record to 31-1 this season. Wilkes, meanwhile, is now 21-1.
River Buttram also brought home second place at 120 pounds. Buttram decisioned Christian Brothers’ John Santi 3-1 in the semifinal before falling to Cahokia’s Leslie Williams by the same score in a thrilling overtime match for the title.
Kyler Rea, meanwhile, finished third at 113 for the Wildcats after falling to Staley’s Trey Nelson in a 3-2 semifinals decision. Rea rebounded, however, to decision Johnathan Doyle of Aurora West, 5-2 in the third place match.
Other individual results for the Wildcats were: 106 pounds, John Williams (eighth place); 126, Dakota McGarrah (10th); 138, Jason Box (17th); 145, Kyle Hostetter (ninth); 152, Chance Branstetter (14th); 160, Garrick Fausett (18th); 170, Austin Hailey (seventh); 182, Jacob Brock (ninth); 195, Ben Elledge (ninth); 220, Christian Lopez (fifth); 285, Aaron Clardy (sixth).
Wildcats coach Jeremy Phillips said the team showed growth during the course of the tournament, but that improvement must continue to be made before the team can truly be considered the best in the state.
“We wrestled well at times, and struggled many times to win the big and or close ones,” Phillips said. “We showed good growth from day one to day two. We, I believe, have a lot to take away from this opportunity and use in our preparations for our peak performance we hope to have in the end when it matters most.
“Our training and preparations will come from evaluations from this tournament and the (Kansas City) Stampede. As a coaching staff, we have stressed that our number one ranking in the state is inaccurate and that we must work to completely buy in the next month and a half.”
Phillips said he revised the team motto to one that reflects the direction and attitude the team needs to take moving forward.
“I revisited our motto,” he said. “Fortitudine Vincimus — which is Latin for ‘by endurance we conquer,’ to get our kids to understand that hard work will beat talent if the investments are made. I truly feel that will be the key to winning critical big matches in the district and state tournaments.
Page 2 of 2 - “We must train to be able to go harder, longer. So the next few weeks we will invest to be the best.”