KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Devin Winston entered this season with plenty of potential and hope for a special freshman campaign.
The Park Hill freshman’s stock continues to soar after he pinned his way through the 160-pound bracket at last weekend’s Class 4 District 4 tournament, including a 28 second pin of Park Hill South freshman Jakob Lebar in the semifinals. Suddenly, the expectations become real for the Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling Championships this weekend at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.
Ranked No. 1 after an impressive late season run, Winston won’t shy away from the expectations, nor his growing responsibility to be a key part of helping the Trojans earn a fourth straight state team title. He wants to become a four-time state champion, a lofty goal he presented to Park Hill coach Jeff Davis last year.
In all the decorated history for Park Hill, Alan Waters remains the only four-time state champion for the Trojans.
“I feel like I am at the prime of my season,” Winston said. “I just keep looking for ways to improve. With all of these great practice partners it feels good. Eighth grade year, I told coach I wanted to be a four-timer from the start. He really made me work for it. Even when I didn’t want to do the extra sprint or go after practice, he really pushed me and I’m really thankful for it.”
Park Hill ran away with the District 4 team title with 259 points, despite some early challenges from Staley (second with 207 points).
Entering state, the Trojans have five No. 1 seeds after Winston, sophomores Josh Steele (113) and Kelvin Eblen (106) and seniors Sean Hosford (145) and Canten Marriott (170) captured individual titles. They put nine in the finals total, and no one looked more dominant than Winston, who hasn’t lost since Platte County’s Johnny Blankenship major decisioned him in a dual in mid-January.
Winston lost his first match of the season, a 7-3 decision to Waynesville’s David Hawk — now ranked No. 5 at 160 — at the Park Hill Duals Tournament. He lost three more times in December on his way to a seventh-place finish in an elite field at the Kansas City Stampede.
Since the loss to Blankenship, Winston has won tournaments at the Capital City Classic and Winnetonka Invitational, beating the majority of the other top-ranked wrestlers at 160 along the way.
“At the beginning of the year, he wasn’t too much of a challenge,” Marriott, a state champion at 152 a year ago, said of his frequent practice partner. “He would lay down for me and do freshman-type tendencies. As the year’s gone on, he’s taking it to me some days. Some days, I feel like I’m the freshman with Devin.”
Park Hill will have 12 total state qualifiers — a new all-time high for the storied program with nine state team championships under its belt, while Park Hill South will see LeBar through after he rallied to win his final two matches following the pin by Winston to finish third.
Hosford, Marriott and Jacob Sobbing (runner-up at 195) have a chance to become the first four-time team champions at Park Hill. All three have interesting storylines for their final run.
Hosford won state titles at 106 as a freshman and 120 as a sophomore before a broken leg forced him to miss most of his junior campaign. He returned just in time for districts, wrestling up two weight classes at 160 pounds and qualifying for state.
The added weight ended up being too much on a not-fully-healed leg, and the Missouri signee went 1-2, eliminated two matches before the medal rounds. Hosford still happily celebrated the team title and the state title for Marriott, his best friend also set to join the Tigers next season.
Hosford’s chase for a third individual title will still focus on helping the Trojans keep their team streak alive.
“That’d be awesome (to win four titles),” Hosford said. “I’ve been thinking about it a long time. It’s kind of cool to think that if me and Canten win and the next years they win, we started that legacy. Four in a row has never been done in Park Hill history so we’re pumped about that.
“Team titles mean more than individual any day.”
Marriott continues to dominate and hasn’t lost since the finals of Stampede.
Nationally ranked at 170, Marriott’s biggest challenge will likely come in the state semifinals where he could meet Jefferson City’s Logan Moriarity for the third time. Marriott has won both meetings this season, including a 4-3 decision at the Elite 8 duals tournament in the final weekend of the regular season.
Sobbing reached the finals at 195 but lost in overtime, still earning his first state berth after just missing out last season.
But Park Hill’s youth continues to drive the team title aspirations.
Eblen, ranked No. 1 at 106 after placing third at state last year, breezed through districts and will take the title of favorite into the state tournament. Steele, who went 0-2 at state last year as a freshman, looked almost as dominant as Winston. Steele recently missed time with an injury but pinned his way through four matches to earn his first district title.
In addition, Weston DiBlasi, a sophomore and returning state medalist, reached the 126 final in District 4 and nearly ended the perfect season of Rockhurst’s Colin Valdiviez, who scored the winning takedown with seconds to go to take a 5-4 decision.
Seven of Park Hill’s state qualifiers will go for the first time.
Austin Kolvek (fourth at 120), Carter Goslee (fourth at 132) and Blake Hopson (second at 138) join Winston as freshmen in the mix for the Trojans. Both juniors, Landen Brown (fourth at 285) and Thomas Lisher (second at 152) — a state champion for Baldwin (Kan.) in Class 4A a year ago — have varied degrees of experience but like Sobbing will be upperclassmen at state in Missouri for the first time.
“We’re pretty young but, those guys, they don’t wrestle young,” Davis said. “They get out there and compete and wrestle at a high level. It’s a process, getting better each and every day.”
After missing the first half of the season due to injury, Lisher scored a key semifinal win against Staley’s Charlie Genioso in his late-season push. Lisher helped Baldwin to a Class 4A team title last year.
Brown earned his spot at state after a pair of ultimate tiebreaker wins on the consolation side of the bracket. He booked his spot with an escape 12 seconds into the 30-second all-or-nothing period against Blue Springs’ Tauivi Olamlaeva, sending his assembled Park Hill teammates mat-side into a celebratory frenzy.
“Twelve getting through means a lot,” Hosford said. “Our heavyweight really stepped it up. We got pumped when he made it. It’s more than we’ve ever had since I’ve been in high school. The more we get (to state) the better. We’re a family and so having everybody there is just fun.”
Park Hill will have a lot of team points to make up from their 129½ winning total from last year after losing three-time state champions Ke-Shawn Hayes and Colston DiBlasi.
The Trojans enter the state tournament with nine wrestlers ranked in the top eight, and Marriott and Eblen join Winston as top-ranked in their weight class. Steele enters at No. 3 while Hosford and Weston DiBlasi garnered No. 4 rankings.
Lisher comes in at No. 5 but upset Staley’s No. 4 Charley Genisio before a narrow loss to Fort Osage’s top-ranked Jesse Jeffries in the district final. Sobbing and Hopson are ranked at No. 7 wrestler. Sobbing’s loss came in the second overtime periods, unable to answer an escape by Fort Osage’s Josh Barnes.
After some early doubts about potential from outside observers, Park Hill again looks like a dominant force ready to make history, a good mixture of surging youth and established veterans with the goal of defending their titles.
“We talk about it a lot,” Davis said. “We could potentially be the first ever four-time state champion group of kids come through Park Hill. Those guys want to leave that legacy. They want to say and hold the other guys accountable and say, ‘This is what we do here. This is the standard here at Park Hill.’ They talk to the kids and they understand it. They want to do that; that’s why they’re at Park Hill.
“They understand (the expectations).”