For two of Platte County’s nine wrestlers making the trip to Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. for the MSHSAA State Wrestling Championships, it will be their first time stepping onto the mats in front of the large crowd assembled for the three-day tournament.
Senior Blake Bills, and junior Nick Maddux each earned their first trip to the bright lights of Mizzou Arena with their performance at last weekend’s Class 3 District 4 Tournament at Winnetonka High School.
Bills placed second in the 120-pound bracket and enters the state tournament as the No. 3 wrestler in his weight class according to missouriwrestling.com. Maddux finished third in the 113 pound weight class and is unranked entering state.
“That’s the goal to get top four at districts and make it to state,” Bills said. “Now the goal has changed from just getting to state to winning state. That’s still the goal until you reach it.”
It’s harder to imagine a loftier goal for the senior if his first is accomplished, but he enters with a chance to accomplish the feat in his only chance in Columbia. Clayton Singh, who beat Bills in the district final sits on the other side of the bracket and is the top ranked wrestler in the weight class according to missouriwrestling.com. The second ranked wrestler, Jakob Gerow of McDonald County and No. four wrestler Dalen Moore of Carthage both sit on the other side of the bracket.
Bills already is eying a potential district title rematch and to upset Singh’s bid at becoming a four-time state champion.
“It’s most likely going to be the two of us in the final,” Bills said. “Right now we’re 1-1. I won the first time we met and he won the second time. I see us in the final just scrapping it out. I’ve seen the bracket a bit. There are tough guys all around don’t get me wrong, but I feel confident in my ability to go to the finals.”
Maddux saw his record improve to 16-15 on the season with his third-place finish at districts, now the task will be to keep his record above .500, which would mean winning a match at the state level.
“My record is kind of looked at as, ‘Oh that’s disappointing,’” Maddux said. “Going into districts, I ignored it because it didn’t represent me. It’s something to think about when you are going up against opponents because if my record doesn’t represent how I wrestle, theirs may not either. I think that’s the same way I need to go into the state tournament, ignore it and go out and wrestle. Records don’t always mean everything.”
Maddux’s record suffered after the junior missed a month of the season with an injury. He spent the last weeks getting his confidence back on the mat, finishing with a third-place showing to set up a showdown with McDonald County’s Oscar Ortiz.
The nine wrestlers marks the first time Platte County has failed to bring at least 10 of its 14 wrestlers to state since 2014 when seven Pirates took to the mats. The team still finished fifth, gaining valuable experience before earning back-to-back state-runner up trophies in 2015 and 2016.
“The underclassmen all have a chance to go down and make a name for themselves,” Platte County Coach Reggie Burress said.
The Pirates still have plenty of opportunities to make noise in the final team standings. Five of the Pirates nine qualifiers are ranked in the top five of their respective weight classes according to missouriwrestling.com including district champions Cody Phippen (126) and Sage Smart (220) who enter state as the No. 1 wrestler in the poll. Phippen is attempting to win his third state title for the Pirates after transferring into the district as a sophomore. Phippen is already in rare air with his results on the mat, setting the career record for near falls with 242 at districts last weekend. Four other Pirates Chase Verdoorn, Tyler St. Louis, Matthew Schmitt, Ethan Karsten, have won three titles.
“Cody does what Cody does,” Burress said. “He does it very well. Sage, he’s set up very well. He’s wrestling lights out right now. He’s working hard and doing everything he can to get better, that’s all you can ask for.”
Park Hill looks to get back to the top of the podium after finishing third as a team a year ago. The step down the podium snapped a string of four-straight championships for the school who is ranked No. 23 nationally according to FloWrestling.com. The Trojans bring 10 wrestlers to Mizzou Arena, six as Class 4 District 4 champions — Weston DiBlasi (126), Austin Kolvek (132), Josh Steele (145), Carter Goslee (152), Devin Winston (182) and Johnny Wilson (285).
Park Hill went 7-2 in the district championship round which should set up good draws for the Trojans against mostly third and fourth-place finishers from the three other districts. Park Hill’s lone qualifier not to make the championship match, Simon Tesfamarian at 220 pounds faces Class 4 District 2 champion Ben Holmes of Timberland in the opening round. The Trojans two second-place finishers – Blake Hopson (170) and Ashton Sharp (195) will each face thirdplace finishers, Tyson Albright of Ozark and Austin Wegener of Lafayette Wildwood, respectively.
Park Hill South will send four to state. Senior Andrew Mikuls headlines the group with a second-place finish at 138 pounds. He is joined Kale Slater at 120 (fourth), Max Rosario at 160 (third) and Cameron Gillespie at 182 (fourth). All four wrestler are making their first trips to state.
In Class 1 two wrestlers from North Platte will make the trek to Columbia as Mid-Buchanan.
A cooperative agreement between the North Platte and Mid-Buchanan school districts since the Platte County school does not offer a wrestling team. Justin Roth enters with a 39-17 record and faces Class 2 district champion Dalton Bridges of Jefferson City Blair Oaks in the first round bracket at 126 pounds.
Jake Williams also has a tall task ahead of him at 152, facing Father Tolton Catholic’s undefeated senior Brock Mauller, also the top ranked wrestler according to missouriwrestling.com.