Auch makes history, Neosho wrestling places second at state
The Neosho Wildcat wrestling team’s season concluded on March 12 at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri, the host of the 91st boys wrestling state championships, as they placed second (148) behind Whitefield (182), with Hillsboro and Lebanon rounding out the top four teams.
With the runners up finish, that makes it 14 straight years of bringing home hardware for the trophy case, with the streak starting in 2008 when they finished fourth, their lowest finish throughout this run.
Since 2010, the program has won state titles in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
Despite COVID-19 canceling two big tournaments this year that the Wildcats normally attend to get better and evaluate where they’re at as a program; they still finished with an 11-0 dual record, finished no lower than fourth in the four tournaments they attended and won the Central Ozark Conference once again.
This year’s team motto was “ownership,” and head coach Jeremy Phillips spoke to the Neosho Daily News about how the team did that in a year where COVID-19 impacted the offseason regimen and canceled big tournaments.
“We wrestled some of our best wrestling this weekend, and that’s what you’re trying to do,” said Philips. “Peak at the right time and when it matters most. I’m very proud of the kids; their ownership paid off. Was it everything we would’ve loved to be? No. But the eight guys we brought here, I was not disappointed in their efforts.”
Six of the eight Wildcat wrestlers that qualified for state made it to the championship rounds, with senior and Arkansas Little Rock commit Cayden Auch the lone state title winner this year.
Sophomore Raymond Hembree (103), senior Landon Kivett (120), sophomore Eli Zar (145), senior Eric Holt (170), and senior Jeremiah Larson (195) all finished second in their respective weight classes, and junior Hayden Crane (132) placed third.
Leaving a legacy
Coming into the tournament, the program had 37 state title winners. Auch had three of those and added yet another on Friday night to make it 38, becoming the first wrestler in program history to become a four-time state champion.
Auch had a first-round bye, an 11-3 major decision win against Riley Brown of Smithville in the quarterfinals, and a pin in the second period of his semifinal match against Ty Brunk of Rockwood Summit.
In the state title match against Wyatt Haynes of Liberty (Wentzville), who had a 49-1 record coming into the match, Auch completed an undefeated 49-0 season, something only two other Neosho wrestlers have accomplished.
Auch led 2-0 after a first period takedown, he was up 4-1 after the second period, and when the whistle sounded after the third period, he emerged with the win, a 10-4 decision.
In the offseason after his eighth-grade year coming into high school wrestling, Auch set a lofty goal for a kid that hadn’t yet wrestled a high school match.
“I talked to Jeremy (Phillips) and knew what I wanted to do,” said Auch. “And that was win four state titles.”
“That young man is priceless to our program,” said Phillips of Auch after team photos. “I saw very early in him not only a great wrestler but a great kid. He shook my hand (after our team picture) and said, ‘Sorry coach, I could’ve been a better leader,’ I was like, ‘man, you did alright.’”
“(Auch) did everything I asked him to do,” added Phillips. “He’s a great kid of character. He had the success to back up his voice. Whenever you have that, it makes it more powerful to those following in his footsteps, those fighting beside him. When he says something, kids are going to listen. That was my biggest thing, continuing to develop him as a leader, and he embraced that role very well. I believe a true leader is one by example and by voice. He always took advantage of opportunities he had to be on the mat. He put more time on the mat and took more ownership than anybody. Hopefully, I’ll use his legacy to get kids to step up and work like he did and lead like he did.”
After the final whistle sounded, Auch flexed to the Neosho contingent in the stands, raising his hands to the sky and pointing a finger above, then shook hands with his Haynes and the opposing coaches and then celebrated with his coaches before he left the high school mat one last time.
“He’s a special young man, and I knew that very early when he started wrestling in third grade,” said Phillips, who coached at all levels in the Neosho wrestling program, starting in the youth levels. “It’s going to be hard to see him go. Bittersweet, but I know his best wrestling is in front of him as well.”
Auch still has more wrestling ahead of him as he will continue his wrestling career at Arkansas Little Rock and after being asked about his emotions when the last whistle blew?
“I did it,” said Auch. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”