The meat and potatoes of the high school wrestling season is upon us as teams gear up for district tournaments this weekend with the state finals in their sights on Feb. 14-16 in Columbia, Mo.
For the Neosho Wildcats, McDonald County Mustangs, Seneca Indians and Diamond Wildcats, this weekend serves as a springboard to achieving the individual and team goals set forth long ago. It’s only a piece of the puzzle, but a big piece nonetheless — a steppingstone to a state title.
“Districts is a very important steppingstone for us to finish not only as individuals, but as a team the following week,” Neosho coach Jeremy Phillips said. “We have got to understand the significance of finishing our best this weekend to set up our state tournament.”
Qualifying for the state tournament will be no easy task. It never is. Competition at the Class 3, District 3 Tournament in Willard, Mo. — where Neosho and McDonald County will be — features 32 state-ranked wrestlers sprinkled throughout, with at least one in every weight class. With only four qualifiers from each weight class moving on in all four districts, the competition to reach Columbia is fierce.
“In some weight classes our district is very competitive, and I can see all four of our qualifiers medaling at state, while other weight classes don’t have that kind of depth,” Phillips said. “We have goals and expectations to take all 14 (wrestlers to state), but that will be a true challenge for us.
“I feel those who will be in those tough battles just to make it … if they can make it through districts, we will have a good shot of winning some matches and even medaling once (we’re) at state.”
All 14 Neosho wrestlers placed at the Central Ozark Conference tournament two weeks ago, so expectations are high. The Wildcats will enter the weekend ranked as the No. 2 tournament team by MissouriWrestling.com. Kearney is No. 1.
The Wildcats and Mustangs will do battle with Branson, Camdenton, Carl Junction, Carthage, Glendale, Hillcrest, Lebanon, Marshfield, Parkview, Republic, Rolla, Webb City and Willard.
“We have to get there and that means no holding on,” Phillips said. “We have to wrestle with nothing left at the end. We can’t try to save anything. If we can do that I know that we will be fine and can live without regrets, or shoulda, coulda, woulda’s, so to speak.”
That same mentality goes for McDonald County, Seneca and Diamond, too. The Indians and Wildcats will also face tough competition at the Class 1, District 2 Tournament in Versailles, Mo.
Like Neosho, the Indians enter their district trailing Whitfield as the No. 2 tournament team in Class 1, according to MissouriWrestling.com.
Page 2 of 2 - Diamond joins the Indians in Versailles, along with Adrian, Bair Oaks (No. 4), Butler, El Dorado Springs, Fatima, Holden, Knob Noster, Sherwood, Springfield Catholic, Tipton, Versailles and Warsaw.
The district tournaments begin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and resume at 10 a.m. Saturday.