In the underbelly of Mizzou Arena, an impromptu family photos was being taken by Neosho assistant coach Cody Crocker of NHS senior wrestler Chase Espinosa and his brother, Dane, and father, Keith.

In the underbelly of Mizzou Arena, an impromptu family photos was being taken by Neosho assistant coach Cody Crocker of NHS senior wrestler Chase Espinosa and his brother, Dane, and father, Keith.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the photo, as Keith and his two sons couldn’t hold back their emotions or their pride after Chase defeated Kearney’s Morgan Fitzgerald for third place in the 160-pound weight class Saturday at the 2011 MSHSAA Wrestling Championships.

Keith, a former NHS assistant now with Carthage, and Dane, a current assistant coach with the Wildcats, were beaming with pride after Chase’s victory that capped his first and only state tournament experience. Chase didn’t come out for the wrestling team until his junior season, and didn’t wrestle varsity consistently until this year.

Spending 18 months training non-stop with Dane, all that hard work paid off as Espinosa rebounded from his loss in the semifinal match Friday with two victories Saturday.

Espinosa finished the state tournament with a 4-1 record. But more importantly, he finished with his short, but successful, high school career with a victory.

“After losing the semifinal match I was down last night, but I talked with (Dane) and he got me back up,” Chase said. “I didn’t want to end my senior year on a losing streak. It was really important for me to win these matches, because this is the first and last time I am going to be here. This feels really good. It is nice to see all my training pay off.”

On Friday, Espinosa earned a 5-3 decision over Ian McIntosh of Summit in the quarterfinals to secure a state medal. Espinosa led 3-1 after two periods against McIntosh, but then recorded a takedown for insurance in the third.

In the semifinal match Friday night, Espinosa faced his toughest test of the state meet in Staley’s Patrick Rhoads, who entered the state tournament 47-1.

Rhoads lived up to the hype, posting a strong 5-0 win over Espinosa. Rhoads had control for the majority of the match, icing the win with a takedown at the 4:30 mark.

But on Saturday, Espinosa rebounded with two wins and a third-place medal.

Espinosa earned a pair of 3-2 decisions to place third. He decisioned Ethan Hennes of Farmington 3-2 in the fourth round of wrestlebacks, before defeating Fitzgerald for third place.

In the match against Fitzgerald, Espinosa recorded a takedown in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Fitzgerald tied the match at 2-2 with an escape before the end of the second period.

Espinosa tallied the winning point, on an escape, just 10 seconds into the third period and held on for the win.

“I know I had a stalling call on me because (Fitzgerald) kept pushing me out of bounds, so I had to worry about that,” Espinosa said. “I knew I had a good defense if he gets on my legs, but it is better for me if I don’t let him get to my legs. So, I was trying to hook me and snap him down and headlock him. I wanted to keep him from getting his offense going, and it worked. I got my takedown in the second period, and then I knew I had it. I told my brother if I got a takedown in the second period, the match would be over and I would win — and I did.”

Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips said he couldn’t ask for more from Espinosa on Saturday, winning his final two matches to score big team points.

“The seniors have led the way all season, and they are leading the way today at the state tournament,” Phillips said. “They are working to finish this thing. It is great to see (Chase) go out on top, and score as many points as he can for us. Chase, on that back side, was tough. He won two huge matches for us. There are not a lot of words to describe what he has done to get there, and the magnitude of this accomplishment.”
While thinking about his accomplishment, Espinosa admitted the obvious.

“I wish I would have wrestled all four years,” he said with a grin.

But Phillips said Espinosa would up for lost time Saturday.

“It was very exciting for me to see the relationship and bond he and his brother developed as they trained for the past 18 months, and that is something that they will have forever.”