Schmitt, Karsten, Blankenship head up Platte County wrestling's historically good senior class

Matthew Schmitt spent an entire career shutting out distractions, focusing on the next match. Always impassive while on the mat, the Platte County senior still knew the importance of his final match at home last week. There were no doubts about the outcome for anyone Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Platte County High School, yet when referee Mark Mundell raised Schmitt’s hand that night after the 186th victory of his illustrious career, even Schmitt took notice of the moment.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Mark Mundell raises the hand of Platte County senior Matthew Schmitt following his victory in a 132-pound match Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Platte County High School against Kearney’s Isaiah Freestone, left. Schmitt earned the 186th win of his career in his final match at home, setting a new program record for wins in a career.

“There was some different emotions running through my head, mostly pride,” said Schmitt, who enters this week’s Class 3 District 4 tournament with more wins than anyone in program history, passing Collin Wittmeyer’s mark of 185 with his first-period pin against Kearney’s Isaiah Freestone. “I’ve got the great opportunity to wear this PC singlet on my chest for 186 matches plus however many I’ve lost. That’s a great accomplishment.”

Already a two-time state champion and three-time finalist, Schmitt heads up a historic senior class eyeing a second straight district championship and a program-first Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships team title.

Of the eight seniors, six remain staples in the varsity lineup, but all have contributed this season.

Schmitt, Johnny Blankenship and Ethan Karsten all have state titles to their credit — five combined during the past two seasons — and Trey Dockery and Tyler Blankenship are both returning qualifiers. Matt Boren broke into the lineup for the first time this year and eyes his first trip to state.

“We see each other having success because we’re all in here doing the same thing, putting in extra time with our coaches to give us better opportunities. I’m just really thankful to be a part of it,” said Blankenship, a 2014 state champion and runner-up last season.

All three of Platte County’s state champions have their role, and the rest of the team, seniors included, follows their lead.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County senior Johnny Blankenship, top, pins Kearney’s Dylan Lewis in their 160-pound match during a dual Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Platte County High School. Blankenship will end his career fifth all-time in victories for Platte County. He’s at 169 entering the postseason.

Blankenship provides the blue collar work ethic. Schmitt provides the technical perfection. Karsten provides the audacious theatrics.

The results have been building throughout their careers.

The Pirates were fifth in the final team standings at state in 2013 and 2014 before coming in a distant second to Neosho last season. The eight seniors now have one final shot to add to the storied history of a program that’s grown in stature, having won seven state championships while moving from a Class 1A-2A power in the late 1990s to a Class 2 force to its current standing as Class 3 contender.

Last year’s runner-up showing earned the first Class 3 team trophy for Platte County, but the ultimate goal has always been bigger.

“This class, it’s a brotherhood,” Johnny Blankenship said. “We’ve not just wrestled these four years together. We wrestled youth together, kindergarten to now. We’ve never been a part of a team state title, and that’s what we’re gunning for this year.

“If we keep working hard, things are looking good for us.”

The close-knit nature of this Platte County group showed during senior night against Kearney.

During the junior varsity dual, Platte County’s three state champions spent time in the home chairs trying to help coach two other seniors to a win in their final matchup — Will Pickett and Bryan Meyerowich,

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County senior Matthew Schmitt, right, gives advice to a teammate during a dual with Kearney on Tuesday, Feb. 2. At left are fellow Pirates seniors Tyler Blankenship and Trey Dockery, part of a record-setting class.

who spent extended time on varsity at 182 this season while Tyler Blankenship healed from a preseason foot injury. Following their matches, they provided the same guidance to teammates, encouraging Boren to avoid a pin at 152 and celebrating when Tyler Blankenship took advantage of a late mistake to score an ultimately meaningless escape.

Kearney’s Andrew Buckley, a 2015 Class 3 state champion, held a major decision until freeing Tyler Blankenship in the waning seconds to lose a team point. Platte County won 45-13.

“I want to see them succeed just as bad as I want to succeed,” Schmitt said. “It’s no fun if a handful of guys are succeeding. You want the whole team to be right there. At districts, I want all 14 to qualify for state, and that’s the goal. And I’ll be honest, I’ll be a little disappointed if all 14 don’t qualify because they’ve put in the work and they deserve it. And that’s my thoughts on that.

“You would have to go to extensive lengths to find a group of guys who are as familiar with each other as we are.”

In between, Schmitt, Karsten and Blankenship scored seemingly routine victories that added to their legacy, helping Platte County to a second straight Blue Division championship.

Dockery was the first senior to take the mat, extending the Pirates’ lead to 21-7 with a pin at 126.

BRYCE MERENESS/Citizen photo Platte County senior Matthew Schmitt scores a takedown in a 132-pound match against Kearney’s Isaiah Freestone on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Platte County High School. Schmitt’s pin in the first period earned his 186th career victory, setting the record for most in program history.

Kearney’s Freestone then unknowingly took his place as a footnote in Pirates history. Schmitt worked for three takedowns in the 132 match before turning Freestone to his back for an easy pin, a business-like effort representative of Schmitt’s run of dominance late in the season.

Schmitt ranks No. 8 in the nation at 126 pounds, according to InterMat Wrestle, although he’s spent the latter half of the season at 132.

“It gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment to know that my hard work paid off,” said Schmitt, now 45-0 on the season with his last loss in high school coming more than a year ago. “It’s a great feeling, but I’m still looking forward to the eight matches I have left. The 186 or however much it could be at the end of the year, I’m not going to worry about that until I accomplish my final goal.”

At 145, Karsten also scored three takedowns before pinning Ethan Locke in the first period to mathematically assure the dual victory. That marked win No. 184 for Karsten in his career, already third in program history.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County senior Ethan Karsten, left, holds on to the leg of Kearney’s Ethan Locke in their 145-pound match during a dual Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Platte County High School. Entering districts, Karsten has 184 career victories, ranking third behind teammate Matthew Schmitt (186) and Collin Wittmeyer (185).

Like Schmitt, Karsten enters what will likely be the final eight matches of his career seeking a third straight state title, but barring a disastrous scenario will end his career second to his teammate in total wins.

And don’t think for a second that doesn’t bother Karsten.

“It bothers me a lot a bit. A lot,” he said. “We’re buddies, and those are my best friends, but I want to beat them in everything. I want to beat ’em up in the room. I want to have 20 more wins. I want 20 more takedowns. I want to be the best.

“I want to see (Schmitt) succeed, too, because I’ve seen the work he puts in. He deserves it.”

Platte County’s 2016 class will include three of the top five in wins all-time with Blankenship currently at 169. They have a chance to collect eight individual state titles, which would rank second only to the 2002 class’s 10 — Chase Verdoorn (three), Jake Fisher (two), Zach Sherman (two), Brett Rolofson (two) and Jordan Hobbs (one).

Entering state this year, there have only been two other four-time finalists at Platte County (Sherman and three-time state champion Tyler St. Louis). Schmitt can join that group.

There have only been two three-time state champions (Verdoorn and St. Louis). Schmitt and Karsten can join that group.

All of the individual accolades are nice, but that’s never been the true focus.

Ask any of the seniors, and they will tell you about the hunt for Platte County’s first Class 3 team state championship. The individual titles might be what carries them to the ultimate goal, a chance for this talented collection of wrestlers to put the final stamp on their careers by taking the Pirates to a new level of success.

“Look at the things this class has done,” Schmitt said. “You’re going to have to go back quite a ways to find another class that’s done the things we’ve done. We’re definitely going to leave a mark and hopefully it’s for the better.”