COLUMBIA, Mo. — Park Hill’s first round didn’t go as planned in the Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling Championships.
In pursuit of the program’s unprecedented fourth team state championship, the Trojans upped the difficulty level by going 6-6 in the first round, but still ended up on top. Each of the other contenders in a deep field suffered through their own disappointments, and seven medalists, three finalists and two state champions added up to Park Hill’s 10th state title — fourth most in state history, just two back of Helias.
In a tournament of wild swings, Park Hill lost a No. 1-ranked wrestler on the first day, endured a biting controversy that benefited the title chase and rebounded from senior Canten Marriott’s difficult 170-pound semifinal loss.
“We’ve been hurt all year; we’ve only had our best lineup once — at districts — and we won everything,” Park Hill coach Jeff Davis said. “We talked to the boys about that and let them know that we’re going to battle through that. We’ve got it done with injuries and everything else. This is no different.”
Park Hill scored 127 team points to finish 28 ahead of runner-up Jefferson City and more than 30 in front of Francis Howell and Holt.
Kelvin Eblen (106) and Weston DiBlasi (126), both sophomores, earned their second state medals and reached the finals for the first time, while senior Sean Hosford capped an impressive comeback story by winning his third state title.
A third-place finisher as a freshman at 106, Eblen (39-4) completed his own comeback. He just missed a spot in the finals a year ago after giving up late points in a semifinal loss but left little doubt this season as one of the two best 106-pounders in the state.
Eblen didn’t lose a match to a Missouri Class 4 opponent and capped his state title run with a 4-0 decision against CBC’s Cevion Severado in the semifinals and an 11-3 major decision over Timberland’s Anthony Pisciotta in the final. Last year’s disappointment remained in Eblen’s mind.
“I wanted to top that — no matter what,” he said. “Next year, I want to take first again. I just want to keep progressing no matter what.”
Hosford’s story involved redemption for unrewarded effort and sacrifice.
Injured in December last season, Hosford came back from a broken leg to qualify for state at 160, but he ended up 1-2 and without a medal, unable to win his third straight title. That guaranteed the state wouldn’t have a four-time state champion in 2016 for the first time since 2005.
However, Hosford came back at 145 this season and peaked toward the end of the season, becoming the Trojans’ fourth three-time state champion and third in two years after Ke-Shawn Hayes and Colston DiBlasi joined the club last year.
“I was happy,” said Hosford (37-3), who expressed the joy of getting a win in the final match for assistant coach Mike Tuck — retiring after 18 years with the Trojans. “I just realized, ‘Go have fun. Go wrestle.’ The individual titles are great but having four team titles is what really makes it. I’m very thankful for that.
“I’d rather have four team titles than three individual titles.”
Hosford’s road ended up being difficult.
In a matchup of ranked foes in the 145 quarterfinals, Hosford trailed McCluer North’s Efe Osaghe 4-1 in the second period. An official noticed Hosford shaking his arm during a restart and examined his arm. After consulting with the match’s head official and a second review of the injury, Hosford was awarded the win for Osaghe biting him.
Osaghe’s coaches — and some from other schools — protested the call, but the result stood, diqualifying Osaghe from the tournament.
“I didn’t tell the ref he bit me,” Hosford said. “I felt super bad because that’s not the way I want to win. It was a freak accident. What happened happened.”
Hosford went on to win a 16-0 technical fall against Oakville’s Austin Neal in the semifinals before meeting up with Jefferson City’s Gavin Dewitt for a second time this season. After pinning him in the first matchup, Hosford held on for a tight 3-0 victory, riding out Dewitt to the finish.
Last season, Hosford relished in the one team point he scored to help Park Hill win its third straight team title. This time around, he helped ease the unexpected results for some of his teammates.
Marriott (53-2), Hosford’s best friend and fellow University of Missouri signee, ended up on the same side of the bracket as No. 2 ranked Logan Moriarity of Jefferson City. Marriott won the previous three matchups this season with him and hadn’t lost to him since the 2014 state tournament.
This time, Moriarity scored a first period takedown and held on for a 3-1 decision to reach the finals against Staley’s Monterio Whiles, who Marriott beat three times this season by 13 or more points.
Marriott came back to win major decisions in his consolation wrestleback and third-place match and finished his career as a four-time medalist — all fourth or better, including last year’s unbeaten state championship.
“Our team was in a fight so I couldn’t just rest,” Marriott said of coming back after the semifinal loss. “I didn’t do what I was supposed to do in the semis. I failed to pick up those team points so I had to come back.”
Weston DiBlasi made it four straight years with a member of his family in the finals.
Back at 126 after medaling sixth last year, DiBlasi came back to beat Lee’s Summit North’s Austin Hanson 4-3 in the quarterfinals and made a 2-1 lead in his semifinal with Francis Howell Central’s Cory Wait stand up by riding him out for the final two minutes. That led to a rematch with Rockhurst’s Colin Valdivez in the final.
DiBlasi fell behind 5-0 and couldn’t rally back in a 5-3 loss to one of three individual champions in the tournament for the Hawklets.
Thomas Lisher, a junior state champion transfer from Baldwin, Kan., lost his opening round matchup at 152 and ended up coming back to take fifth. Josh Steele, a sophomore and second time state qualifier, reached the semifinals to guarantee his first state medal, ending up fifth at 113.
Jacob Sobbing, a senior, was the other first-time medalist for Park Hill, finishing fifth at 195. The results for Steele, Lisher, Marriott and Sobbing helped the Trojans lock up the team title despite some of the early setbacks.
“Ultimately, they’ve had to step it up for other guys (all year),” Davis said. “There’s been a ton to deal with. That’s how we get through it: they just fight. We’re fighters, and they understand the team concept.”
Four of Park Hill’s program record 12 state qualifiers were freshmen but none medaled, including Devin Winston at 160. Entering at No. 1 after a late-season surge, he lost his opening match 11-9 and didn’t recover, going 0-2 in his first state trip.
Park Hill freshman Austin Kolvek (120) also went 0-2 with a difficult draw, as did junior first-time qualifier Landen Brown at 285, while freshmen Carter Goslee (one win at 132) and Blake Hopson (two wins 138) contributed points to the state title run. That promising group of freshmen took away valuable experience that Davis knows will benefit the Trojans as they seek to extend their run to 2017 and beyond.
“A couple of them learned not to overlook their first-round opponent,” Davis said. “Overall, I thought it was a good experience, and they’ll be ready to get after it next year.”