Versailles sends trio of Tigers back to state

Versailles is continuing its tradition of sending wrestlers to the state tournament.

The Tigers hosted the Class 1 District 2 Tournament on Friday and Saturday and a trio of grapplers in senior Kooper Wilson, junior Michael Trotter and sophomore Payton Lafoy punched their tickets to the biggest tournament of the year in Columbia.

It may not be quite as many wrestlers as the program has become accustomed to qualifying after sending seven a year ago, a program record nine in 2016 and eight in 2015, but nevertheless that tradition continues.

“We knew coming into this season that this was a reloading year for us. We have some talent, but they are just not very experienced and that kind of showed at times this weekend,” Brantley said of the state of his program. “There was some really good stuff and things that showed we still have stuff we need to work on.”

Versailles will also look to continue a tradition of earning a spot on the medal stand and Brantley said the three who are going are quite capable of accomplishing that.

“Two of the three have been there and done that. This is Kooper’s fourth trip and he is a medalist and Trotter’s second trip and he was a medalist last year. So they know what it is going to take to be on that podium, but all three are capable of doing that,” he said. “I feel pretty good about it.”

A total of 15 schools descended upon Versailles over the weekend and Seneca came away with the district title after accumulating 205.5 team points. Meanwhile, the Tigers finished 11th on their home mats with 61 points after finishing third in the standings a season ago.

The Tigers nearly had two other wrestlers qualify in Ben Dornan of the 106-pound class and Riley Rademann at 195, who were both just one match away. However, instead of focusing on what could have been, Brantley said it was important to use any shortcomings as fuel for next season. The coach also said the rest of the team could learn a thing or two from the trio of qualifiers.

“Just look at how hard they’ve worked and what they had to do to put themselves in that position. As much as it hurts now, you have to take that disappointment and turn that into a positive and get better from it,” he noted. “That is the biggest thing to me. I always tell the boys, I don’t care if you lose every match as long as you are giving you effort, learning from it every time and improving.”

As for the three who are going, the trio of Tigers will look to make the most of their experience at state and represent Versailles well.

Lafoy’s path to the tournament began in the 120-pound class where he earned a pin in the quarterfinals, won an 8-7 ultimate tiebreaker in the semifinals and fell in the championship match via the pin to Father Tolton. However, the top four wrestlers in each class qualify and Lafoy is happy to be among them as he enters the tournament with a record of 31-17.

“All I can say is that I am excited. This is only my second year of wrestling so it is kind of a big deal,” the sophomore said of his first trip to state. “I never really thought I was going to get this far.”

But those seeds of doubt can now be removed and Lafoy credits his supporting cast.

“I have a lot of great teammates. I wrestle with everyone and they’ve all made me better. The coaches have told me everything I need to know and I have learned a lot this year,” he said.

Brantley said the 120-pounder was certainly deserving.

“Payton kind of came out of nowhere. He wrestled seven varsity matches last year so we were not real sure what we were going to get there when he stepped in the lineup,” the coach said. “He has been pretty consistent all year. He had a little stretch through the middle where he was not winning as many matches as he wanted, but he was learning from it each time. They were not matches where you did not feel like he was not competing and got better.”

Trotter had little trouble making his way to the championship match in the 182-pound class. The junior, who is 44-5 this year, won his first three matches via the pin and fell in the championship match by pin to an undefeated foe from Knob Noster.

It will be Trotter’s second trip to state and after finishing fifth a season ago, Brantley said the sky is the limit for the grappler.

“Michael is still so raw. His ceiling is so high and he has improved leaps and bounds, but still has a long ways to go,” the coach remarked. “But I feel pretty good about it. He has to take the next step and get further up that podium now.”

Trotter plans to treat the upcoming tournament like any other.

“You cannot let anything get to you and cannot hold anything back. You just have to go out there, give it your all, not let the crowd get to you and just wrestle like yourself,” he said.

And improving upon his finish from 2017 and finding himself standing a little bit higher on the podium?

“It would mean the world to me. I mean, we are all here for the same reason,” Trotter said. “We’ve worked all year for it and it is something we’re all striving to do so we just have to make sure it happens.”

Wilson has fought through some injuries over the course of his career. Despite any obstacles he may have faced, Wilson has still managed to qualify for state all four years and will be healthy going into his final tournament as a high school wrestler.

“He hurt his back, then he broke his ankle, but he has been healthy this year and has not cut weight,” Brantley pointed out. “He has been able to focus on kind of polishing up some of the little things he needed to.”

Wilson finished third in the 138-pound bracket with a 5-0 decision, a 5-2 decision, a 4-0 decision and a pin. He enters the state tournament with a record of 41-9 and is planning to make the most of every match he has left.

“The mindset is the same no matter what. It is a big tournament, but just go out there and wrestle one match at a time and see what happens,” he stated. “It is a pretty cool experience so I’m going to take it in while I can because who knows how much longer I have there. I’m just going to go out there and give it everything I got since this is the last tournament I’ll ever have.”

And perhaps that mindset of wrestling like there is no tomorrow would be beneficial to all three Tigers as they embark on this final adventure of the season. Brantley said the plan is to clean up a few things in the three days of practice they will have ahead of time and study some of the future opponents the three wrestlers will face.

Of course, there will also be a little bit of time to continue another tradition the wrestlers have become quite fond of and that is dying the hair gold before the matches get underway. With eight different matches taking place at any given time at state, it can make a Tiger quite easy to spot.

“They were already discussing their hairstyles,” Brantley said with a smile.

The action gets underway at Mizzou Arena Thursday morning at 10 a.m., and will conclude Saturday evening.

Camdenton's Blain earns a spot at state

The hard work has paid off for Gabe Blain.

After several years of coming up just short of earning a spot at the state tournament, the Camdenton senior broke down that barrier on Saturday afternoon in the Class 3 District 3 Tournament in Carthage.

“It feels pretty good. I’ve been working for it since I was in seventh grade,” Blain said. “I made it to the bubble match since freshman year, but never could really make it past that and this year I finally did.”

The top four wrestlers of each weight class advance to state and Blain has wrestled a lot of the same kids since his freshman year, unable to claim one of those spots. Now, that past is history as he finished fourth in the 138-pound class and earned his place among them. Blain won an 18-6 major decision and a 6-0 decision and enters the state tournament with a record of 39-13.

“It just took a lot of hard work and dedication. Practices that were mandatory or not and on the weekends, you just had to show up and be the guy that wants to work harder than everybody else,” Blain noted.

Unfortunately, Blain will be the only Laker at state. There were three more Camdenton grapplers in Grant Garrett (42-10), Ryan Rothove (30-12) and Jesus Ramirez (38-13) who were all just one match away, but came up just short. The Lakers finished 12th out of 15 total teams with 26 team points while Neosho secured the district title with 213 points respectively.

“I’m so happy for the young man and he has worked hard,” Camdenton coach Grant Leighty said of Blane. “It is bittersweet when I have kids that have worked so hard like Grant, Winton Neal, Ryan and Jesus. To come up just a little bit short was just tough.”

And Leighty does not blame them for any of their shortcomings either, noting how difficult things can get in a high-pressure match when a trip to state is on the line.

“You have to bring your ‘A-Game’ because everyone there is tough and one little mistake can make all the difference in that. Unfortunately, we just ended up a little bit short and wrestled some very good competition so all I can say is that I appreciate all the hard work the kids have put in to make a difference.”

Leighty specifically pointed out his senior class and the example they put forward that the coach believes will usher in a bright future.

“The seniors were the type of leaders that you look for so that is the one thing I can take away from all this. I believe the future is going to get brighter for us,” he stated. “The leaders I had this year led by example and I believe the young kids coming after them know what it is going to take to get it done.”

For now, one of those seniors will look to make the most of the time he has left on the mats as Blain will head to Columbia and go to battle at Mizzou Arena on Thursday morning at 10 a.m., hoping to earn a spot on the medal stand by Saturday night.

Eldon and Osage head back to state

Grapplers from Eldon and Osage were in postseason action for the Class 2 District 3 Tournament with 14 other teams over the weekend and every single wrestler had just one goal in mind- earning a spot in the state tournament the following weekend.

To achieve that goal, each wrestler had to finish in the top four spots of each weight class and the wrestlers of both schools managed to do that once again as the Mustangs had four wrestlers punch their tickets to state, including two district champions, while Osage senior Austin Magnuson earned his third state bid and claimed a district title of his own.

By the end of the day, Eldon put together its highest district tournament finish in program history as the Mustangs finished fifth in the team standings with 91 points while Osage claimed 13th with 46 points. Odessa took home the team title with 168.5 points respectively.

Eldon’s Trenton Dillon, who finished second in the state a year ago and was injured for a good portion of the season this year, remained undefeated at 21-0 and claimed the district title in the 160-pound class. His teammate Dawson Brandt (49-8) also brought home the title in the 182-pound bracket. Meanwhile, Kaden Dillon (42-12) placed third at 195 and Isaiah Simmons (37-11) also finished third at 120. The Mustangs also nearly qualified a couple of other wrestlers as Shane Strickland (28-22) and Scott Johnson (37-22) were both just one match away.

Osage nearly had more wrestlers punch their tickets to state as well. Kody Dowell (26-21), Jack Creasy (30-13), Jesse Schillinger (14-27) and Matt Russell (195) all needed to win just one more match, but Magnuson will look to represent his school well after finishing fifth in the state at 145 in 2017.

The action begins Thursday from Mizzou Arena in Columbia at 10:30 a.m., and will conclude Saturday night.