The final standings showed that any one match could’ve swung the Platte County Invitational title to the hosts on Saturday, Jan. 21 at Platte County High School.
After the last match of a grueling nine-team round robin format, Seneca — a Class 1 powerhouse — ended up with 411½ points to edge Platte County by three. The Pirates had surged into the lead during the final round but came up just short of a repeat title in the event despite continuing to endure injuries and absences.
Cody Phippen (113 pounds), Dakota Schmidt (170) and Sage Smart (195) were individual champions for Platte County, which won six total medals given to the top three in each weight class. The Pirates were still without junior Jake Stathopolous (knee) at 106, while sophomore Blake Bills (120) gave way to Nick Maddux due to injury and junior Bradley Poos suffered a neck injury early in the Friday portion of the tournament and missed the remainder of his matches.
Despite the setbacks, Platte County continued to show continued development in an unrelenting schedule.
“I feel like we’re improving each day, coming in and working hard,” Schmidt said. “I think we’re starting to come around.”
Platte County added Rolla and Helias to this year’s field after Omaha Skutt Catholic (Neb.) at least temporarily dropped out. The nine-team field created a slew of matchups between ranked wrestlers stretching across three classes.
With just five qualifiers back this year from last year’s Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships, Platte County received some important in-state tests.
Phippen (22-3), the only one of the Pirates’ four 2016 state champions back, impressed early with a pin of defending Class 1 state champion Max Roark of Seneca in the first round. Phippen closed out his title with a first period pin of Oak Grove junior Tucker MacWilliam, who entered ranked No. 2 in Class 2 according to missouriwrestling.com.
Platte County’s other two champions were both returning state qualifiers who didn’t medal.
Smart largely breezed through his field with three pins in five matches. He closed the tournament against Carthage’s Brycen Cartwright, who entered unranked.
After taking an early lead, Smart threw Cartwright to his back in a cradle but then spent some time on his own back after a reversal. Smart countered with a reversal of his own and wound up with a 9-5 decision.
“I knew he was going to be tougher than the matches I had before,” Smart said. “He had the cradle block. He had my foot locked and kind of slipped out of it. I’ve gotten to where I’m attacking all the time. First part of the year, I wasn’t really taking any shots, but now I’m attacking and the matches weren’t close like they were at the beginning of the year.”
Smart improved his record to 21-10 while ranking No. 4 at 195 in Class 3. He’s part of a large group needing to step up to fill the voids if Platte County hopes to compete for a third straight Class 3 team trophy at state after coming in second to Neosho each of the past two years.
Schmidt also falls in that category, and he made big strides to improving his standing after going 0-2 in his state debut last year.
Now a junior, Schmidt improved to 26-8 with seven victories despite entering as the No. 5 seed. He won a 10-2 major decision against Seneca senior Taylor Cook (No. 6 at 170 in Class 1) before dominating previously unbeaten Seth Veatch of Rolla in a sharp 4-0 decision.
Schmidt entered ranked No. 4 at 170 in Class 3 — one spot back of Veatch.
“I was trying to work on my stuff and not worry about what the opponent does and improve on what I do,” Schmidt said.
Platte County senior Casey Jumps (220) and junior Matthew Knopp (285) suffered losses to top-ranked wrestlers from Oak Grove on the way to runner-up showings.
In perhaps the tournament’s most anticipated match, Jumps trailed unbeaten sophomore Tyler Curd 3-2 in the third period and just missed a takedown on a sweep single with Curd kicking away to avoid giving up the two points. A short time later, Jumps slipped on a shot and went to his back, pinned with about 30 seconds left in the match.
Knopp went 6-1 with two pins and a forfeit but also toughed out decisions against Rolla’s Justin Briggs (2-1) and Belton’s Chance Simpson (3-1), who had won a matchup between the two days earlier. His lone loss came to Oak Grove senor Austin Kemp, who rolled through the eight-man bracket.
Platte County’s final medal came from sophomore Nolan Saale.
The 132 field ended up having a three-way tie for first, and Saale wound up third despite having a win over the champion. With all three at 5-1, Helias’ Jackson Careaga took the title despite a 3-2 loss to Saale, who lost 4-3 to Seneca’s Dayton Fields — a sophomore ranked No. 2 in Class 1.
Careaga scored the most team points of the three, giving him the edge, and Fields’ head-to-head win over Saale made him runner-up.
Stathopolous, Saale, Bills, Nick Filger (fourth at 138), senior Jaron Hoegler (sixth at 145) and Knopp make up a group looking to breakthrough and reach state to add points to Platte County’s state run. Stathopolous at 113 last year and Knopp at 285 were one match away, while Saale, Bills and Filger weren’t a part of last year’s Class 3 District 4 champion.
“It’s exciting, especially knowing I haven’t won a lot of matches so my confidence has been pretty low,” Saale said. “To know that I can go that far and compete with a kid (Fields) at that good of a level is good for my confidence, as well.”
Austin Kincaid, Platte County’s other returning medalist, couldn’t keep up his early momentum in a tough 126 field.
Up against Seneca’s Dalton Hembree in the first round, Kincaid (21-13) turned the tide in the third period of a match featuring plenty of scrambles. Hembree — a Class 1 state champion at 120 last year — ended up stacked to his back and pinned with 20 seconds left.
Kincaid then lost 10-3 to Class 2 No. 1 Tanner Pavlica (8-7) and unranked Nick Norbury of Carthage (pin) on the opening day. Kincaid closed with four straight wins but also lost to Class 3 No. 1 Tristan Barr of Rolla (10-3) on the second day of action.
In the final standings, Kincaid ended up fourth behind Barr, Pavlica and Hembree in that order, while Norbury didn’t win another match, forced to medically forfeit his last four.