Platte County puts 3 in finals; Karsten becomes program’s 1st national champ

In the storied accomplishments of Platte County wrestling, none of the previous state champions or medalists went on to win a title at ASICS/Vaughan Junior/Cadet Nationals. The Pirates never even had a finalist until the summer of 2013. In late July, three juniors-to-be made the finals for Team Missouri in Fargo, N.D., a historically good showing for most any program. Ethan Karsten became the first national champion, winning 138-pound cadet titles in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle, while Matthew Schmitt became the first two-time finalist. Johnny Blankenship completed the trio, earning his first All-American honors. “We knew they all had a good shot to place high if not win it,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “We talked about it, and we’ve been kind of building toward it. They performed well, but in their minds, they want to be national champs.” All three of Platte County’s All-Americans were crowned Missouri high school folkstyle state champions in late February, a big part of Platte County’s fifth-place finish in the final Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships’ team standings. Karsten continued his meteoric rise. A two-time state medalist, he won the 132-pound Class 3 state title with a 4-2 overtime win against Oak Park’s Noah Teaney, denying the Northmen senior his fourth championship. Karsten entered nationals unranked in’s high school rankings but moved up to sixth after winning both of his cadet brackets. “It was cool and all but that was the expectation. Anything less than that was a failure,” Karsten said. Karsten jumped out early in both of his national finals. He took an 8-0 lead on Devin Bahr of Wisconsin in the Greco final and went on to an 8-3 decision. He then scored two exposure points with 7 seconds left in the first period of the freestyle final to complete a 10-0 technical fall against Shayne Oster of Illinois. “I wrestled really well in the finals,” said Karsten, who became Missouri’s 15th cadet freestyle national champion. “I like the spotlight, and I think that helped.” Karsten and Blankenship (second at 152 in freestyle) wrestled in the cadet level, generally reserved for wrestlers who just completed their freshman or sophomore years, but due to his birthdate, Schmitt wrestled at the junior level, which includes outgoing seniors. A two-time high school state finalist and this year’s Class 3 champion at 106 pounds, Schmitt made the junior freestyle championship match at 113 pounds where Jack Mueller of Texas won a 12-1 technical fall. Schmitt garnered All-American honors in both disciplines last year, including a runner-up showing in freestyle at 100 pounds. Despite the loss, Schmitt now owns the distinction of being the first national finalist at both the cadet and junior levels, and he hopes to eventually join Karsten as a champion before his high school career ends. “It meant a lot (to be back in the finals) because it’s nationals, and it’s just a great experience to make the finals. Very few people in the US can do that,” Schmitt said. “I feel like the wrestlers are just more mature (at the junior level). They don’t make as many rash decisions when they’re wrestling. They’re just more cautious.” Blankenship, a state champion at 145 pounds, reached the 152 final before losing a 9-7 decision against Trey Meyer of Washington. Blankenship held an early 2-0 lead but trailed from the end of the first of two 3-minute periods until the end, nearly making up an 8-3 deficit in the closing seconds. In addition, senior-to-be Caleb Crabtree — a state finalist at 138 — went 2-2 in junior Freestyle, and Casey Jumps — a late addition to the varsity roster in 2013-14 — missed a medal by just one match, going 3-2. All five are part of an encouraging crop of returners who have spent offseason time helping Platte County prepare to make a run at the seventh team state championship and first since moving up to Class 3 prior to the 2010-11 season. Nationals provided another opportunity for the team to grow together. “The group we have right now. We’re all competitors and we don’t like to lose. We’re going to do whatever it takes not to lose,” Schmitt said. “We’re all really good friends. We’d do anything for each other. We’re still a team; there was Team Missouri, and there was Team Platte County and we spent a lot of time cheering each other on.”