Laker senior nearly captures state medal

The path to the podium in the 138-pound bracket at the Class 3 state tournament in Columbia over the weekend was a difficult one.

But it was a challenge Camdenton senior Gabe Blain was willing to take on and he nearly reached the end of that path, coming up just one win short of earning a state medal. Not bad for a first trip to state and ending the season with a record of 41-15.

“I was super happy for him. He has worked real hard, had a real good career and I would have liked to have seen him walk out of here with a medal, but 138 is a super tough bracket,” Camdenton coach Grant Leighty said. “I mean, the two kids in the bubble match that did not make it through were kids that have placed before or could have placed this year easily.”

Blain had a tough draw in his first match as he fell by pin against Liberty (Wentzville’s) Christian Zeik who finished 34-4. However, with no more losses left to spare, Blain picked up a pin himself over Farmington’s Ian Asher (31-18) and proceeded to beat Willard’s Tallon Heimbach in a 2-0 tiebreaker (double overtime) to keep his medal hopes alive. Heimbach had beaten Blain twice before, but that would not be the case this time around.

“That was one of the smartest matches he had wrestled all year. He was defensive when he needed to be, aggressive when he needed to be, had a sense of what was coming and was able to defend it well so I was real proud of that match,” Leighty said of Blain’s efforts. “That kid had owned us this year so for him to be able to come back and get that win, I know that had to be a personal satisfaction for him.”

Blain’s next task would not be any easier though as he had to take down another wrestler who had beaten him before. Neosho’s Braxton Barne’s (47-8) was the final wrestler standing in the way of Blain getting a medal and it proved to be a tough barrier to overcome as Barnes won a 9-2 decision.

Still, Leighty was proud of how far his lone state qualifier had come.

“He wrestled him the best match that he had so far this year,” Leighty said of the senior. “It is not a state medal, but you can be happy with the kid going out and wrestling a couple of his best matches he ever has.”

Blain maintained the streak of Camdenton wrestlers making an appearance at state and the example he provided to the rest of his team went beyond whether or not he made it to the medal stand. Being one of a trio of Lakers who surpassed 40 or more wins this season with other wrestlers like senior Winton Neal or junior Ryan Rothove nearly missing out on that feat due to injury, Leighty said the foundation has been laid for future wrestlers to follow.

“We have a lot of young wrestlers that are already looking to get to work and get the work done that they need to before next year. Blain has been a great role model for that,” Leighty pointed out. “He trained during the offseason and kind of led by example in that way so I was really happy to have the group of seniors that I did. We have a whole bunch of freshmen and sophomores so I think they showed them what they need to do to be successful.”

And if there is anything other wrestlers could learn from Blain’s run at state, it is to never count themselves out.

“If you come down here and just turn it on at the right time anything can happen. He went out there and wrestled two kids that owned him this year and he gave himself a chance to win those matches,” Leighty stated. “If nothing else, I just want them to see that when you come down here and give it everything you got, anything is possible.”