COLUMBIA, Mo. — Justin Rhodes played down the idea of redemption or relief.
To be honest, the West Platte senior expected to find himself in this position all along, but more than once. Rhodes earned his third state medal but finally broke through to win his long- coveted state championship during the Class 1 Missouri State Wrestling Championships, defeating Holden’s Andrew White in the 152-pound final Saturday, Feb. 20 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.
Rhodes jumped to his feet in a quick burst of celebration before pausing to pull off a backflip to the delight of the Bluejays’ fans in attendance.
“I usually don’t think about state until it comes, and I’m prepared when it does,” said Rhodes, who became the first state champion in program history in his third trip to the state finals. “I just came back stronger each time.”
Rhodes long ago established himself as the best wrestler in West Platte history, but he still needed the state title.
As a freshman, Rhodes advanced to the 126-pound final, and despite a 7-1 loss to Fatima’s Ryan Strope, appeared set to win multiple titles. Instead, Rhodes crashed out of the tournament as a sophomore without a medal before reaching the 145-pound final as a junior.
That ended with a 3-1 loss to Whitfield’s Sky Darrah, leaving him with just one more chance.
“Getting second two times already just made me want it that much more,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes entered ranked No. 1 at 152 in Class 1, and after a pin in the first round, he advanced to face a rematch of his only loss this season. South Harrison’s Mason Doll used an early five-point move to beat Rhodes in their first meeting of the season, but Rhodes won the next three, including a 7-0 decision in the state quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Rhodes lost a 4-0 lead in the final minute against Versailles’ Dalton Schmidt but rallied for the winning takedown in overtime to keep the dream alive.
Rhodes used a reversal in the second period of the championship match to take a 2-0 lead. That held until White, a first-time finalist, scored an escape in the third period. He couldn’t come up with any offense, and Rhodes ran out the time on a 2-1 decision and a state title.
“I’m a huge believer in The Lord, the man upstairs,” said Rhodes, who finished his career with a 196-10 record — the most wins in school history. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and that truly came through this time.”
Jake Williams (126) and Parker Rotterman (145) — North Platte’s two state qualifiers competing for Mid-Buchanan as part of a cooperative agreement — combined to win one match.
A qualifier for a second straight year, Williams lost to eventual state champion Romelle Person of Maplewood-Richmond Heights in the first round and then bowed out with a wrestleback loss. Rotterman overcame an early deficit to win a 7-4 decision against No. 6-ranked Rylan Chrisman of Marceline in the opening round.
Rotterman then lost a 9-2 decision in quarterfinals to Centralia’s Carter Kinkead before being pinned in his wrestleback match with Lathrop’s Justin Wright, who Rotterman beat the week prior 3-2 to win the Class 1 District 3 title.