The Neosho wrestling team took its first step toward a sixth consecutive Missouri Class 3 state title by winning its home invitational tournament Saturday with 224 points.

Lebanon finished second at 183, Rolla third 157, Belton fourth 147.5, Hillsboro fifth 111, Farmington sixth 105.5, Willard seventh 96.5, and McDonald County eighth at 86.

These schools rank among the very best in Class 3.

Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips first talked about the level of competition in this year’s edition.

“I don’t remember any as tough as today,” he said. “I wrestled in this for four years and I’ve hosted this for I believe this is my 14th year. Of the 30 years, 18 I’ve been a part of and we’ve never had this much depth and competition with this many state medalists and champions in this tournament. I was excited about that, because I knew we were going to get a true test of where our kids are at. Our Neosho tournament’s always been kind of a warmup tournament and we were definitely tested with quality kids on Day One.

“It was good for us, for sure. The coaching staff, this is what we needed. The kids, what they needed after five weeks of very hard training. Now, we have a very good idea of what we got to do to continue moving forward. The positive, the coaches and I talked today, is that we’ve got several kids that had a solid start and it’s something to work on. Our young, inexperienced kids showed up and showed us that they can be competitive. We put the right kind of ownership in and we’ll find ourselves seeing these guys again and setting goals to change outcomes.”

Adrian Hitchcock (285 pounds), Joey Williams (195), Braxton Barnes (138), Trenton Young (132), and Cayden Auch (106) each finished 5-0 and took first place. Alec Rothman (152) and Zane Persinger (220) each took second. Kolton Sanders (113), Brady Franklin (120), and Drayke Perry (182) each finished third. Bret Camerer (126) placed fourth, Jacob Fry (160) fifth, and Keaton Sanders (170) sixth.

Hitchcock pinned rival and friend Bronnie Kinser (McDonald County) in 1 minute, 2 seconds in the finals. Williams pinned Rolla sophomore Colton Franks in 1:48. Barnes won a 8-5 decision against Rolla senior Cameron Brainerd. Young won a 5-0 decision against Lebanon sophomore Cole Roark. Auch, in his first varsity tournament, earned his title with a 7-3 decision against Farmington’s Austin Wadlow.

The Wildcats’ lineup featured five sophomores and three freshmen.

“I’ll be honest with you, in our first five weeks, we had some dark days,” Phillips said. “Days that were very tough because we were making some weight cuts and two-a-days is hard on the body and the mind. Some of these freshmen come in and they get beat up by our state medalists. I told some of them that they just need to ice their mind. When you’ve got injuries of the body, put ice on it. We needed to ice our minds because we were getting beat up mentally. Fortunately, we have got those kids to believe. You’ve got to believe in the process.”

The young wrestlers definitely acquitted themselves well against the formidable competition. For example, returning state qualifier Kolton Sanders finished third and in the third place match, he took a hard-fought 4-3 decision from Belton junior Brayden Bentley, a state champion last season at 106.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Phillips said. “I always say those who stay will be champions. Today was Day One of being a champion. Proud of them. We’re on our way. The weeks to come will be exciting and hopefully, we can all take pride and watch these guys develop and be proud of the results at the end.”

Neosho returns to action Friday and Saturday in the Missouri Duals hosted by Helias Catholic.

— McDonald County’s three returning state medalists each finished either first or second.

Jakob Gerow (120) finished first, with all five wins by pin. Gerow pinned Rolla JV’s Dakota Arthur in 34 seconds, Willard’s Oscar Martinez in 30 seconds, Farmington’s Kyle Crawford in 2:52, Lebanon’s Cale Schmitz in 48 seconds, and Hillsboro’s James Short in 2:25.

Oscar Ortiz (113) and Kinser (285) each finished second, both 4-1 on the day.

Meanwhile, Jack Teague (152) placed fourth and Timber Teague (182) fifth, each finishing 3-2 overall.

Team results — Neosho 224, Lebanon 183, Rolla 157, Belton 147.5, Hillsboro 111, Farmington 105.5, Willard 96.5, McDonald County 86, Branson 51, Lebanon JV 43.5, Kickapoo 24, Neosho JV 21.5, Willard JV 11.5, Hillsboro JV 7, Farmington JV 6.5, Rolla JV 0.5, Branson JV 0.
Individual champions — 106: Cayden Auch, Neosho. 113: Nathan Pullman, Rolla. 120: Jakob Gerow, McDonald County. 126: Zach Fennell, Rolla. 132: Trenton Young, Neosho. 138: Braxton Barnes, Neosho. 145: Trevor Christian, Lebanon. 152: Joe Biondo, Belton. 160: Andrew Gamble, Belton. 170: Robert Weber, Belton. 182: Jack Goin, Belton. 195: Joey Williams, Neosho. 220: Dalton Berg, Farmington. 285: Adrian Hitchcock, Neosho.