Southwest Missouri will be well represented this week as 27 wrestlers from four schools throughout the local area will participate in the MSHSAA State Wrestling Championships at Mizzou Arena.
Fresh off of team district championships, the Neosho Wildcats are sending 13 individuals to state while the Seneca Indians will have nine in competition when the tournament kicks off on Thursday. Meanwhile, McDonald County is sending four wrestlers to state while Diamond has one.
In all, the Wildcats qualified 13-of-14 wrestlers to state at the Class 3, District 3 Tournament last week. Of those 13, 12 wrestled for district titles with eight — Kyler Rea (106 pounds) River Buttram (120), Nate Rodriguez (132), Kyle Hostetter (145), Sam Williams (152), Jacob Brock (182), Christian Lopez (220), and Aaron Clardy (285) — winning district crowns. The others five qualifiers are John Williams (113), Dakota McGarrah (126), Jason Box (138), Chance Branstetter (160) and Ben Elledge (195).
Williams should provide a huge boost to the Wildcats' state fortunes. After missing more than half of the season with an injury, he returned to the mat last week and promptly cruised through the competition to claim the title. His addition could loom large this weekend, as the team the Wildcats are chasing, No. 1 Kearney, will be sending eight wrestlers to the competition.
"They have eight who can score points, and we have 13," Neosho coach Jeremy Phillips said. "The key is scoring points with those 13. When you send more you have the opportunity to score more, but it doesn't mean you're going to, it just means the opportunity is there. As a coaching staff we've got to emphasize with our kids that we can't be satisfied with the accolade of being state qualifiers.
"We've got to make sure we take those 13 kids and battle and score points with each of them. We did a great job of stepping up (at districts). We've got to do that again if we're going to get where we want to be."
While Kearney is not to be taken lightly, they are a bit depleted. Junior All-American Seth Brayfield (120 pounds) reportedly quit the team within hours of the district tournament.
But Phillips and the Wildcats are taking nothing for granted. They know all 13 members must wrestle well if they are to have a chance at winning their third state title in four years.
"We've been training for something special since after Easter last year," Phillips said. "These guys, they've invested a lot. That's the thing; we don't have an offseason, and these are the results we work for. We've just got to keep reminding ourselves of that special finish we're trying to hunt down.
"This week is a huge steppingstone for ourselves in getting up for that tournament we're searching for. Believing and having that faith is crucial when you're facing the best of the best in the state of Missouri."
Page 2 of 2 - The Indians are taking that same mindset into their quest for a state title this weekend after clinching their fifth district title in six years on Saturday. With nine wrestlers qualified for state, they could be a force again this weekend.
Indians coach Jeff Sill said his team relied on a tough tournament schedule this season to help prepare them for the postseason. It seemed to benefit his team during districts, and, hopefully would have the same effect at state.
"The kids, I'm telling you, they really stepped it up," Sill said on Saturday. "We'll need them to do it again (this week)."
Will Roark (120 pounds), Jesse Rhoades (132) and Jalen Skaggs (160) all won district titles for the Indians. Also qualifying were Quentin Cotton (113, third place), Cole Lankford (126, second), Ryker Skelton (170, fourth), Jeff Butler (182, fourth), Dylan West (195, third) and Devin Madison (220, third).
Other local qualifiers were McDonald County's Jordan Moffett (220), Trevor Young (126), Josh Kinser (132) and Jacob Dalton (145); and Diamond's Jordan Douglas (145).
The MSHSAA State Wrestling Tournament kicks off on Thursday and runs through Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.