Platte County doesn’t have the patience to wait another year. The Pirates don’t like to lower expectations, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming losses.
Coming off the best season ever for the program in Class 3, Platte County must replace six total seniors, including the historic trio of Matthew Schmitt, Ethan Karsten and Johnny Blankenship and their eight total Missouri State Wrestling Championships individual titles in 10 total finals appearances. The Pirates lost five state qualifiers and four medalists who helped them finish 16 points behind team champion Neosho.
The runner-up showing with four individual state champions was nearly unprecedented and frustrating for a perennial powerhouse still looking for its first team state title in Class 3.
“That’s the goal every year: team state title, 14 individual titles,” said Platte County senior Casey Jumps, a two-time state qualifier who finished fifth at 220 pounds last year. “The expectation is definitely to compete for a state title with everyone competing to the best of their ability.”
Half of Platte County’s 10 total state qualifiers from the Class 3 District 4 champion return, including junior state champion Cody Phippen — set to move from 106 pounds to 113 pounds this year.
The Pirates will have just four seniors, including two-time state qualifier and fifth-place finisher at 220 last year Casey Jumps plus Zach Rolofson, Jaron Hoegler and Ahmaad Holt, but all four might not necessarily be in the lineup. Even with open spots, competition throughout the lineup remains solid.
Still, replacing the Division I trio of Schmitt, Karsten and Blankenship plus two-time state medalist Trey Dockery and two-time state qualifier Tyler Blankenship puts pressure on the new members of the lineup to step in and each provide small contributions to make a big impact.
“We know there’s a void,” Jumps said, “so everyone has to work that much harder and put that much more into it.”
Rolofson qualified for state at 120 as a sophomore but didn’t go out for the team last year. He will be battling with Blake Bils and Nick Maddux for that spot this year. Bils and Maddux also have significant varsity experience but have never been regular starters.
The same goes for Hoegler, a regular last year and varsity for the postseason, and Nick Filger, Nolan Saale and Omar Garcia. Filger, Saale and Garcia will likely be fighting for the 132 and 138 spots with Kincaid at 126, while Hoegler, junior Jackson Phan, Bradley Poos, Colton Davis and Holt will be in competition for the 145, 152 and 160 spots.
The new faces will deal with Platte County’s typically difficult schedule, including an early dual with Class 4 champion Park Hill plus national tournaments like Kansas City Stampeded and Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wisc.
“As always, we’re going to find the best competition we can find, challenge the kids and work at becoming the best we can leading up to the state tournament,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “Obviously, we have seven or eight kids who have had that big-time experience and the rest of them will be getting that on the go. That’s just the way it is here.”
While the middle of the lineup will be a bit in flux, the upper weights are a bit more set.
Dakota Schmidt returns at 170 for his junior season after qualifying for state and going 1-2 at that weight a year ago. Sage Smart, a junior, went 2-2 at 195 with Jumps and junior Matthew Knopp at the top two spots. Knopp finished strong last season and just missed a state berth at 285 despite wrestling at districts with a significant knee injury.
As of now, 182 appears to be the biggest question mark for Platte County.
To continue competing for team trophies at state, the biggest addition could be another frequent contributor in recent years. Jake Stathopoulos will attempt be at 106 for his junior season and finally crack the regular starting lineup after just missing a state berth at 113 as a sophomore.
Teammates and coaches believe he has the potential to be a state-medal caliber wrestler that could provide a big bump, especially working every day with Phippen in the practice room.
“I want to be more of a leader,” said Phippen, who went 49-2 as a sophomore (no losses to Missouri Class 3 opponents) after transferring from Basehor-Linwood (Kan.). “We have kids that are solid, and I can help make them better so our team can be better. I’ve always felt the same. I’ve always expected myself to do good.
“(Jake) has a real shot (at a state title), as long as he works hard and if I stay on him.”