The Neosho Wildcats — the five-time defending Class 3 state champions and winners of seven of the last eight state titles — open their season Saturday with the 30th edition of the Neosho Tournament.

The Wildcats welcome a field that includes Lebanon, Branson, Belton, Kickapoo, McDonald County, Willard, Hillsboro, Farmington, and Rolla.
Belton and Hillsboro are both new additions, with Farmington and Rolla recent additions the past couple seasons.

Those additions have only added to the high competitive level of the tournament.

Last season, for example, Neosho (first), Belton (sixth), Willard (seventh), Rolla (ninth), McDonald County (16th), and Hillsboro (18th) each finished in the top 20 teams of Class 3. Branson (23rd) and Farmington (27th) finished in the top 30.

After the completion of last season’s tournament, Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips evaluated the competition level.

“We added Rolla,” Phillips said, “and there were several state qualifiers and medalists in this tournament today. There were only four opens in the entire tournament. We allowed teams to bring their JV to fill and we only had a handful of JV kids that filled in the opens. I was very impressed with the competition. It’s a step up.

“I was telling the kids that this is the 29th annual Neosho Tournament, I wrestled in four of them and I’ve coached 12 of them now. Of those 16, this has been the toughest I’ve ever been a part of, so quite honestly I can say this is the toughest Neosho Tournament, competition wise, that we’ve ever had. It’s great for us and I think it was great for the others that came. There were several coaches that were happy that they had the opportunity to compete against some solid kids.”

The Wildcats have won every Neosho Tournament since 2007 and last season, Neosho finished just over 100 points better than second place Lebanon.

Wrestling begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the high school.

WRESTLERS TO WATCH

— Brayden Bradley, Belton
Bradley completed his sophomore season with a state title at 106 pounds and he’s one of three returning state champions from last season in the Neosho field. He won a 9-3 decision against Kearney’s James Freitag in the championship match. Bradley posted a 43-6 record. Bradley placed fourth in the state at 106 his freshman season, losing a 12-4 major decision against former Neosho standout Dalton Kivett in the fourth place match. Bradley’s listed at 120 for his junior season.

— Alex Garrett, Willard
Garrett finished third at 132 last season, edging Smithville’s Ryan Hampton on a 6-5 decision to finish a 42-8 season. In the Neosho Tournament last season at 132, Garrett placed fourth behind Rolla’s Tristan Barr, Neosho’s Gannon Millard, and Lebanon’s Trevor Christian. Garrett’s listed at 152 for his senior campaign.

— Jakob Gerow, McDonald County
Gerow won a Neosho title last season at 120, completing his unbeaten run through the tourney with a 2-0 decision against Lebanon’s Cole Roark. On the season, Gerow placed fifth in Class 3 at 120 and his 6-0 decision against Rolla’s Zach Fennell completed a 40-7 overall season. The Mustangs have Gerow listed at 126 for his senior season.

— Adrian Hitchcock, Neosho
Hitchcock completed a 51-2 state champion season with a pin of Carl Junction’s Zeke Wall in 3:17 and the Lindenwood recruit won state, district, and conference titles his junior season, all coming against friend Wall. Hitchcock finished second in the state at 220 his sophomore season. Last season, Hitchcock wrestled at 220 in the Neosho Tournament and rolled to a 5-0 start to his season, winning the title on a 5-3 decision against Willard’s Christian Smart.

— Bronnie Kinser, McDonald County
The Neosho Tournament’s defending heavyweight champion, Kinser pinned Carl Junction’s Zeke Wall in 42 seconds for the crown last season. Kinser finished sixth in Class 3 heavyweights last season, his 46-10 season ending on a 1-0 fifth place match loss to Harrisonville’s Austin Campbell.

— Oscar Ortiz, McDonald County
Ortiz enjoyed a great first week during his freshman season that established an early tone for the rest of the season — his unbeaten run through the Neosho Tournament at 106 pounds gave Ortiz an overall 9-0 start. Ortiz won a 10-8 sudden victory over Lebanon’s Hunter Lewis and the 106 class at Neosho featured four state qualifiers in the top four spots, Ortiz and Lewis joined by Neosho’s Kolton Sanders and Willard’s Riley Wertz. Ortiz — 46-7 overall last season — placed third in Class 3, ending on a 1-0 decision against St. Charles’ Ben Bohr. Ortiz’s listed at 120 for his sophomore season.

— Dylan Owens, Hillsboro
Owens finished 42-1 overall and second place last season at 120, his only loss of the season in a championship match 13-0 major decision against Kearney’s Clayton Singh. He’s listed at 138 for his senior campaign.

—Robert Weber, Belton
Weber won a state title at 152 last season, completing a 31-4 season with a 5-3 decision against Grain Valley’s Tristan Lineberry. In his freshman season at 138, Weber finished second with a 3-2 tiebreaker loss to Willard’s Niko Chavez for the state title. Weber’s listed at 182 for his junior season.

— Joey Williams, Neosho
Wrestling at 170 last season, Williams — a Maryville recruit — placed third in the state and wrapped up a 51-5 season with a 6-1 decision against Smithville’s Brian Boyd. Williams won the 170 title at Neosho last season, rolling through the tourney 5-0. Williams’ listed at 195 for his senior campaign.

— Trenton Young, Neosho
Young, a state runner-up at 113 his sophomore season, finished third at 126 his junior season, pinning Grain Valley’s Mitchell Alexander in 2 minutes, 43 seconds to complete a 48-9 season. Young won the Neosho tourney at 126 last season, going through competition 5-0. Young beat out such wrestlers as Willard’s Tallon Heimbach and Rolla’s Zach Fennell. Young’s listed at 138 this season.

— Other wrestlers of distinction: Joe Biondo, Belton; Coleman Brainerd, Rolla; Cameron Caldwell, Willard; Trevor Christian, Lebanon; Zack Fennell, Rolla; Skyler Harris, Branson; Tallon Heimbach, Willard; Hunter Lewis, Lebanon; Cole Roark, Lebanon; Kolton Sanders, Neosho; Riley Wertz, Willard.