COLUMBIA, Mo. — Nick Filger comes from a long line of wrestlers.
His grandfather, uncle and dad all wrestled — either Platte City High School or Platte County High School.
However, the senior didn’t take to the sport right away. He wanted to take part in the Science Olympiad.
Flash forward six years and Filger became the first member of his family to earn a state medal.
The senior took fourth place for Platte County, one of three Pirates to take part in third-place matches during the 89th annual MSHSAA Wrestling Championships held Feb. 14-16 at Mizzou Arena.
After getting a photo taken on the podium, Filger held the medal wrapped up around his neck in his right hand. As he walked off the floor at Mizzou Arena, he kept looking at the wording on the back of the memento from his final trip to state.
“It is such an honor,” he said.
Now, Filger just wishes he would’ve started wrestling sooner in life.
He was in seventh grade when he first got introduced to the sport and was suppose to go out at the urging of a friend. However, Filger had his sites set on the Science Olympiad.
“I was so fixed on wanting to do that,” the senior said. “My friend Omar (Garcia) wanted me to come out and I was like, ‘nah, I want to do Science Olympiad.’”
The next year he came out for the junior high team and had some success.
His freshman year he joined the high school team and had a lot of wrestlers to look up to: Matthew Schmitt, Ethan Karsten, Johnny Blankenship, Cody Phippen and Casey Jumps — all either state champions or Division I wrestlers or in some cases, both.
“I learned a lot going into the into that room and I learned a lot going with Coach (Reggie) Burress to freestyle and greco, that really helped a lot,” said Filger, who finished his senior season 47-14. “I think it is pretty impressive just starting in eighth grade. If I had only a few more years, I probably could be up on top of that podium for first.”
Now, he passes the torch for the first championship to his brother, Luke, who was on the JV team this season. The first to wrestle was his grandfather, Ron, who graduated in 1967. His uncle, Brad, and dad, Danny, followed. His dad didn’t medal, but got to the bubble round his senior season in 1993.
“They are pretty proud of me,” said Filger, who hopes to wrestle in college.
Filger opened with a 10-5 decision against Sikeston’s Josh Rishton (138) but then Filger lost the first of two heartbreakers. He dropped a 4-2 decision in an ultimate tiebreaker to Republic’s Jonathan O’Connell, who made the state finals and took second.
Filger rattled off three wins in a row to earn his medal. He pinned Washington’s Tommy Kelpe in 54 seconds and then won 9-2 against Marshfield’s Ruger Leppert. In the bubble round, he beat Webster’s Eric Pettibone by a 3-2 decision.
In the third-place match Filger drew Grain Valley’s Mitchell Alexander, who he was 2-0 against this year. Alexander got the best of Filger this time, winning 4-3 in an UTB.
The other two Pirates in the third-place matches also suffered closes losses.
Nolan Saale (160) lost in his final match as a Pirate, 4-2, in a sudden victory win by Jerrett Villinger of Warrenton — who was ranked No. 1 by MissouriWrestling.com heading into district competition.
The other setback for Saale (37-14) came in the quarterfinals against Pacific’s Ben Courtney, who posted a 9-1 major decision. Courtney reached the finals, where he took second.
Saale got two 2-1 decisions on his way to his first medal. He beat Dustin Luebbert of Helias Catholic and Rolla’s Hayden Fane in the consolation portion in order. Prior to that, he beat Neosho’s Keaton Sanders, 3-1. Before falling to Courtney, Saale opened with an 8-2 decision against Parkview’s Kenyen Keiber.
Freshman Eli Rocha posted a 3-2 mark at the state meet and was the only Platte County wrestler to reach the semifinals this year.
He opened with a pin against Ft. Zumwalt East’s Shakboz Hasanov (2:45) and then bested Rolla’s Alexander Sederburg (9-5). In the semifinals, he lost to Jacob Mann of Ladue Horton Watkins, who was the eventual state champion, by a pin.
Rocha beat Branson’s Christian Cartright in his first consolation match — a 17-5 major decision — but lost to St. Charles’ Ben Bohr in the third-place match, 3-2.
“It was nerve racking, I was nervous for every match,” said Rocha, who finished 40-10. “I always wanted to be here, since I was a little kid. Whenever I went out there, I felt like everyone was watching me.”
A club wrestler for Victory, Rocha is already driven to place even higher next year after reaching the finals.
“Losing in the semifinals, knowing I was that close, is motivation for next year,” he said. “I feel confident next year I will fix things I did wrong, improve on them and become a better wrestler.”
Platte County took 12th in the team standings with 50 points. District foes Kearney (second, 137.5 points) and Smithville (third, 114 points) earned trophies. Neosho won the state championship with 141.5 points.
Platte County got wins from Grant Stathopoulos, Nick Maddux and Jaydon Walls, while Drake Lacina, Blaine Keuhn and Vinny Cesaro also competed at state.