Park Hill looked the part of feared powerhouse early last season, flexing a deep and talented lineup in a difficult schedule.
Then a series of unfortunate events conspired to derail the four-time defending Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling champions. The Trojans qualified 13 of 14 out of Class 4 District 4 but only 11 competed at state after two wrestlers were removed from the brackets in the days ahead of competition. Thomas Lisher — one of three seniors in the lineup — ended up with his state points revoked after being disqualified from the final match of his career.
Park Hill fiished an almost unthinkable third place in the final Class 4 state standings, left to lament what could’ve been.
“We often look back at how we did last year and how the season ended, no matter how good the season started,” said Park Hill junior Devin Winston, the Trojans’ lone finalist and state champion last year. “We just push each other and plan to keep ourselves out of dumb stuff that kept us from the state title last year. I think our minds are in the right place right now, and if we keep it up, then no one should be able to touch us.”
The good news for Park Hill would be in the returning lineup.
Lisher, TJ Hullaby (fifth, 182 pounds) and Landen Brown (1-2 at 285 pounds) were the lone seniors. Of the eight other returning qualifiers who participated at state, five won medals and all but two won at least one match to aid the Trojans’ shorthanded title chase.
Staley’s balanced lineup earned the championship, while CBC’s trio of standout state champions keyed a second-place finish. Park Hill came in third but just 22½ points out of first place despite the setbacks.
“I believe this year’s team will be even better than last year’s team,” Park Hill coach Jeff Davis said. “I believe that our kids have learned quite a bit since last season’s issues and look to get our program back on track this year. There are a ton of positives with the way the boys have been preparing, and I think they believe that they have something to prove.”
Park Hill knows there will be room for improvement for some that comes with the program’s pedigree.
Winston will again lead the way after going from a No. 1-ranked qualifier at 160 who went 0-2 at state as a freshman to a nearly undefeated sophomore state champion at 170 with no losses to in-state competition. He finished the year 43-1.
Park Hill sophomore Ashton Sharp comes back after an impressive freshman season that ended with a third-place finish at 195. He enjoyed a strong summer in freestyle and Greco-Roman and will be considered a top state title contender.
Trey Crawford (sophomore) placed fifth at 106 last year and will likely be at 113, while juniors Blake Hopson (fourth at 160) and Austin Kolvek (fifth at 120) will be at higher weights coming off their first medals in their second state appearance. Carter Goslee, a junior, will likely be at 152 by the end of the season with two state appearances already to his credit, having gone 1-2 in 2016 and 2017.
Park Hill also expects seniors Weston DiBlasi (two-time state medalists, 2016 state finalist) and Josh Steele (two-time qualifier, 2016 medalist) back in the
lineup after being disqualified after districts a year ago. Johnny Wilson will be back after going 0-2 at state as a freshman at 220, likely moving up to 285, and junior Trey Safford — a pleasant late season surprise and state qualifier at 113 (0-2) — and sophomore Aidan Johnson will be looking to break back into the lineup after spending significant time there last season.
Wilson will miss the start of the season with a foot injury.
“I think we’re pretty solid all around,” Winston said. “Hopefully, we can get all 14 qualified (for state) then everybody scoring points with multiple state champions and finalists.”
The expectations will again be there with Park Hill ranked No. 11 in Intermat’s preseason national team rankings and three wrestlers ranked in the top 20 at their weight class — DiBlasi (No. 12 at 138, although he’ll likely beat at 126), Winston (No. 20 at 182) and Sharp (No. 15 at 195). The Trojans also expect highly touted freshmen Ethen Miller (120) and Grayston DiBlasi (138) to immediately provide an impact.
Park Hill will also rely on a few unknowns in each part of the lineup with 106 to be determined, junior Spencer Eastwood potentially at 160 and junior Simon Tesfamarian the best candidate for 220 right now. Eastwood has made spot appearances for the Trojans in his first two years with the team.
“That No. 11 ranking is great, but we still didn’t win state last year,” Winston said, “so we’re not even No. 1 in the state in our mind. I think we’re working hard to show why we should be and why we are No. 1.”