It was a special night Thursday at Neosho High School when the Neosho Wildcats hosted the Cassville Wildcats and the Monett Cubs for duals.
First, seniors Adrian Hitchcock (285 pounds), Joey Williams (182), and Trenton Young (132) were honored before the dual against Cassville in their final matches at the high school.
Second, Neosho retired the singlet of former Neosho High standout and later collegiate national wrestling champion Nate Rodriguez before the nightcap dual against Monett.
Third, Neosho and Monett are ranked No. 1 in Class 3 and Class 2, respectively, by missouriwrestling.com, and both teams feature several ranked wrestlers.
Finally, Neosho dominated both duals Thursday night, taking down Cassville 78-0 and Monett 58-13, rattling off 58 unanswered after Monett stormed out to an early 10-0 advantage.
“We definitely improved from our outing on Tuesday night (against Buffalo and Logan-Rogersville),” Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips said. “Coming out here tonight, we’re here to fight. We need to get on our toes and get out there and throw the first punch, not sit back and wait to see what happens. I felt like we were somewhat overconfident on Tuesday and passive, so seeing us come out here and wrestle aggressive and fearless showed me that we are coachable and on the right track. If we are going to do something special and win big matches, you can’t be on your heels and waiting, you’ve got to be on the attack. That was a big improvement.”
Phillips said the wrestlers were their most coachable all season on Thursday, ranging from prematch warmup to post-match conditioning.
Thursday night’s strong performance could give the Wildcats momentum headed forward into Saturday’s conference tournament.
“I preach on not having doubts,” Phillips said. “The other night, I was having just a little bit of doubt creep in and with tonight’s efforts and attitudes, they helped kick those (doubts) out, and I need that as a coach. I’ve got to keep the faith and have them follow me with that faith. So, they demonstrated that buy in and that belief in what the coaches are trying to get out of them and that’s going to be the most important thing moving forward.”
In the grand finale, Monett started off strong with 10 points from top-ranked Karter Brink (120) and Joel Barrientos (126).
Brink won a 17-5 major decision against Brady Franklin and Barrientos pinned Bret Camerer in 1 minute, 26 seconds.
Young won a 3-0 decision against Elias Barrientos to start Neosho’s impressive run of points.
In a meeting of No. 2 ranked Braxton Barnes and No. 1 Gunnar Bradley, Neosho’s Barnes controlled the match and pinned Bradley with 46 seconds remaining in the second period.
Alec Rothman (145) won a 13-2 major against Jordan Withnell, Jeremiah Larson (152) pinned Josh Bahl in 4:11, and Jacob Fry (160) pinned Dru Guinn in 4:38.
Drayke Perry (170), Caleb Elliott (195), and Zane Persinger (220) each won by forfeit.
Williams won a 22-7 tech fall against Brandon Castillo, personifying Neosho’s more aggressive wrestling Thursday night than a couple days before.
Hitchcock pinned Raymond Villalta in 1:45 and No. 1 Cayden Auch (106) ended Neosho’s run with a 9-0 major decision against Class 2 No. 1 Joseph Semerad.
Matthew Bahl, top-ranked himself at 113, defeated state-ranked Kolton Sanders 3-2 in one of the best matches of the night, and what turned out to be the night’s final one.
Against Cassville, Sanders (113) won by forfeit, Franklin (120) won a 9-7 decision against Gabe Hunter, Young (132) pinned Jaden Davis in 1:52, Barnes (138) pinned Keaton Artherton (1:01), Larson (145) pinned Logan Carlin in 4:37, Fry (160) pinned Jose Melchor in 4:45, Perry (170) won a 5-3 decision against Wyatt Goade, Williams (182) pinned Colton Moore in 53 seconds, Elliott (195) pinned Colter West in 2:58, Persinger (220) pinned Nate Boley in 1:30, Hitchcock (285) pinned Mason Hendrix in 46 seconds, and Auch (106) pinned Gavin Moore in 1:47.
All told, Neosho won 13 matches Thursday night by pinfall.
A small senior group with a huge impact
Every year, every season, every team, a senior group closes out a career.
“Definitely instrumental in this team and this program for several years,” Phillips said. “Small group, but definitely have made a huge impact. There’s stories that each of them will leave for me to use in future years. Even though they graduate and leave, their impact and influence will never leave us.
“We were reviewing some of those the other night, one of them being Trenton Young. He didn’t crack our lineup as a freshman and never medaled in youth ever. He was there every year and then went on as a sophomore, made our lineup and in his first state tournament, he earned state runner-up. That’s a story I’ll always use. ‘The hammer of persistence will drive that nail of success.’ You hunger for something long enough and you keep on the force and believe in the coaching staff, his loyalty was definitely something evident in that pursuit for that first medal.
“Adrian Hitchcock, one of the top kids in the country. That’s something we’ve worked for and wanted to not get him recognized nationally for the splits that he did, but for his wrestling. We finally cracked the rankings nationally this year. That path he’s taken to be one of the top kids in the country, that’s very deserving and something that I’m proud of, as well.
“Joey, he had that older brother (Sam) that was his motivating factor. He always strived to one-up his brother. That’s been good for him. He hasn’t deviated from making himself a top-caliber wrestler. The thing about Joey is that I remember when he first qualified for state, like it was a huge deal. His dad was crying, I was on the edge of tears, and him just making it to state in youth wrestling was a huge deal for him, because wrestling didn’t come easy. Nothing’s in his life has ever came easy. He always finds a way to overcome adversity, and that’s been his trademark.”
Hitchcock, Williams, and Young still have chapters remaining to write in their stories.
‘The role model that you want all your kids to follow’
The Wildcats have made a recent tradition of retiring the singlets of former wrestlers. For example, the last three honorees — in consecutive years — have been Dallas Smith, Blake Stauffer, and Rodriguez, each of whom earned NCAA All-American honors after graduating from Neosho.
Rodriguez culminated an outstanding collegiate career last season with an NCAA Division II title at Maryville and he also earned All-American honors for his equally outstanding work in the classroom.
“What a great opportunity for our program and our community to recognize one of the best that’s ever come out of Neosho and I believe the state of Missouri,” Phillips said. “He’s the role model that you want all your kids to follow. He did it right on the mat, he did it right off the mat. His accolades were just as many for his academics as they were his athletics. He’s another one that it didn’t come natural, didn’t come easy.
“There’s many stories of Nate that show that. He would set goals and find a way to hunt them down. I remember his ACT score was one (story). He would get done with practice and he was in this program to increase his score by three points. His goal was to get a 30. He was stuck at a 27 and he was studying every night after practice for hours to improve that score. That’s a testament to who Nate is. He sets his mind to it, he’s going to do it.”
Phillips said that it’s been great to have Rodriguez back working with young Neosho wrestlers.
“I wish you could replicate him,” Phillips said. “Again, having him around, that’s what we’re trying. The more contact he can have with the kids, the more they’ll be wanting to follow in his footsteps. I think that’s what Neosho wrestling’s about. We produce great wrestlers, but great young men and women when we’re done. You see that with our seniors and you see that with Nate Rodriguez.”