After winning their sixth consecutive Central Ozark Conference Large title on Saturday at Neosho Junior High, Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips emphasized to the 14 wrestlers that a conference title should be a stepping stone to the final tournaments of the season and that a conference title should not be the pinnacle of their season, which ultimately ties into this Neosho team’s theme of kaizen or “continuous improvement.”
“We want to make it evident with our efforts what we’re trying to do,” Phillips said. “I saw guys open gaps and close gaps and avenge losses today. We talked about some of these young kids, freshmen and sophomores, that have turned the corner to success. Some of them peeked around it and they’ve been right there. Some of them turned the corner the other night in the dual and these guys have stayed there. We have to keep our foot on the gas pedal, we’ve got to keep going and not trying to hang on, and wrestle tough all the time.”
Neosho ran away with the conference title Saturday with 253 points, followed by Ozark at 163.5, Carthage 160, Nixa 127, Willard 108.5, and Webb City 106.5 among those schools who scored at least 100 points.
Twelve Neosho wrestlers finished in the top four — Cayden Auch (106 pounds), Trenton Young (132), Braxton Barnes (138), Drayke Perry (170), Joey Williams (182), and Adrian Hitchcock (285) won individual titles and accounted for half of Neosho’s top four finishers.
Auch, wrestling in his first conference tournament, pinned Webb City’s Kyler Carter late in the second period — in 3 minutes, 17 seconds — for the crown. Auch, ranked No. 1 in Class 3, improved to 43-2.
Young proved persistent in his championship match against Republic’s Jonathan O’Connell, pinning O’Connell with just 21 seconds remaining in the third period. Young improved to 39-8 overall.
Barnes came out focused and hyper-aggressive in his championship match against Willard’s Tallon Heimbach, earning a pin in a mere 40 seconds. Barnes ran his record to 41-5.
Perry nearly saw a 4-0 lead against Ozark’s Tyson Albright evaporate in the finals, but Perry righted the ship for a 8-4 decision and his first conference title. Perry improved to 31-13.
Williams, probably the most consistently dogged and determined Neosho wrestler all season, wore down Carthage’s Dillon Lancaster and pinned him in 3:37. Williams improved to 43-3.
Hitchcock defeated two state-ranked heavyweights, first Carl Junction’s Zeke Wall (3-1) and then Ozark’s Jace Gorn (8-5) in the finals. Hitchcock held a 6-2 lead on Gorn entering the third period and had to do some nifty fighting to stave off Gorn’s comeback victory attempt. Hitchcock holds the best record on Neosho at 44-2.
Kolton Sanders (113), Jeremiah Larson (145), and Zane Persinger (220) each finished second, Bret Camerer (126) and Alec Rothman (152) each placed third, and Brady Franklin (120) took fourth.
The Wildcats now enter that critical training period before districts February 9 and 10 in Carthage, a time which will have bearing on whether or not they can earn their sixth consecutive Class 3 state title.
“We start two-a-days again,” Phillips said. “We’ve got three goals in mind. It’s a training triangle and try and get an edge in all three areas. Topping off our gas tank, polishing up our technique, it’s the little things, I truly believe simple things make a significant difference, and last but not least is our focus mentally. That mental part is discipline, focus, toughness. That makes it happen.”
Phillips said that he was impressed with the attitude and efforts Saturday, following up on Neosho’s impressive effort Thursday night at home against Cassville and Monett.
“We’ve got some decent momentum going,” Phillips said, “and that’s what we’ve got to go into the postseason with. This can’t be our pinnacle. We’ve got to peak when it matters most. Again, conference tournament isn’t the tournament that matters most and if these guys take the right approach for the next two weeks, we’ll be where we need to be in the end. I’m confident, I believe in them, and they’ve got to do that. The way we practice is the way that we wrestle.”
Class 3, District 3 includes several of the schools present Saturday (Branson, Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho, Republic, Webb City, and Willard), as well as Camdenton, Glendale, Helias Catholic, Hillcrest, Marshfield, McDonald County, Parkview, and Rolla.
Looking at the rankings from missouriwrestling.com, District 3 features three ranked wrestlers at 106 (Auch, Rolla’s Anthony Sederburg, and Webb City’s Kyler Carter), two at 113 (McDonald County’s Oscar Ortiz and Sanders), two at 120 (McDonald County’s Jakob Gerow and Rolla’s Nathan Pulliam), two at 126 (Rolla’s Zach Fennell and Carthage’s Dalen Moore), two at 132 (Young and Carthage’s Nick Norbury), two at 138 (Barnes and Rolla’s Coleman Brainerd), two at 145 (Willard’s Alex Garrett and Carthage’s Corben Pugh), one at 152 (Carl Junction’s Isiac Shields), one at 160 (Carl Junction’s Jackson White), one at 182 (Williams), one at 220 (Persinger), and two at 285 (Hitchcock, Wall).
Not all those wrestlers competed at those weights Saturday — for example, Moore and Norbury wrestled down one weight from their ranking and won conference titles.
Regardless, that’s a loaded field with around 20 ranked wrestlers.
2018 CENTRAL OZARK CONFERENCE LARGE TOURNAMENT
at Neosho Junior High
Team scores — Neosho 253, Ozark 163.5, Carthage 160, Nixa 127, Willard 108.5, Webb City 106.5, Carl Junction 93, Republic 91, Branson 68.
Individual champions — 106 pounds, Cayden Auch, Neosho. 113 — Riley Wertz, Willard. 120 — Dalen Moore, Carthage. 126 — Nick Norbury, Carthage. 132 — Trenton Young, Neosho. 138 — Braxton Barnes, Neosho. 145 — Alex Garrett, Willard. 152 — Kade Hicks, Webb City. 160 — Nick Gladkov, Ozark. 170 — Drayke Perry, Neosho. 182 — Joey Williams, Neosho. 195 — Donovan Benetti, Nixa. 220 — Oswaldo Garcia, Nixa. 285 — Adrian Hitchcock, Neosho.