Park Hill understands the role very well at this point.
With 10 starters back from a year ago, the Trojans will again be the overwhelming favorites to win the Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling Championships team title, which would be a fifth straight. They have eight of their program-record 12 state qualifiers back from a year ago, including state finalists Weston DiBlasi and Kelvin Eblen.
There’s no reason to shy away from the expectations.
“We have to train like we’re in second place,” DiBlasi said. “Don’t train like you’re in first; train like you’re chasing something.”
Park Hill’s returners include four sophomores who gained valuable experience about the state tournament as freshmen.
None of the five first-time qualifiers medaled, not even Devin Winston, who entered ranked No. 1 at 160 pounds with wins against all of the top contenders at that weight class. Carter Goslee (132) and Blake Hopson (138) did score points.
Austin Kolvek (120), the fourth freshman, also went 0-2, as did now-senior Landen Brown (285) in his state debut.
“I’m definitely looking forward to even more titles after I’m gone,” Eblen said.
While the inexperienced wrestlers learned, the upper classmen continued tradition with the seniors becoming the first in program history to be a part of four straight state championships.
Sean Hosford (145) came back from a serious leg injury suffered early in his
junior season to climb back to the top of the podium with his third career state championship. Canten Marriott (170) recovered from an upset loss in the semifinals to finish third, scoring valuable team points to allow the Trojans to hold off Jefferson City by 28 points in the final standings.
Both wrestlers moved on to continue their careers at the University of Missouri.
But like losses for Winston and Marriott show, the state tournament didn’t go as planned for Park Hill. Thomas Lisher, a state champion transfer from Baldwin, Kan., lost his opening round matchup at 152 but ended up coming back to take fifth. Josh Steele, a second time state qualifier, reached the semifinals to guarantee his first state medal, ending up fifth at 113 as a sophomore.
Jacob Sobbing, also a senior, was the other first-time medalist for Park Hill, finishing fifth at 195.
“We’re never going to be able to replace a Sean Hosford or a Canten Marriott or Jacob Sobbing,” Lisher said. “I mean they’re all great leaders who showed us what to do, what not to do — set the line. I feel like Wes and I and Kelvin can fill it and hopefully keep everyone going and keep our mentality strong.”
Eblen and DiBlasi — both juniors — joined Hosford in the finals.
After finishing third at 106 as a freshman, Eblen went 39-4 and didn’t lose a match to a Missouri opponent in Class 4 all season. DiBlasi remained at 126 for a second straight season and moved up on the podium from fifth as a freshman to second as a sophomore, losing a tight 5-3 decision to Rockhurst’s Colin Valdivez in the finals.
The returning finalists now understand the job to help replace Hosford, Marriott, Sobbing and David Ambriz (220) and become the next leaders of Park Hill’s title chases.
In addition to the seasoned youth, Park Hill expects a handful of freshmen to compete for spots right away again this year. Trey Crawford will be a lock to take over the 106 class with Eblen up to 113, while freshmen Aidan Johnson, Ashton Sharp and Johnny Wilson have the youth pedigree to contribute.
The challenge will be to arrange the lineup the right way, just as the Trojans did a year ago with Kolvek, Hopson and Goslee finding their spots by the end of what turned out to be another championship season.
“You always have to make room for changes,” Eblen said. “Someone gets hurt, you’ve got to step up to keep the team moving.”