Tiger duo puts up fight to earn spots on podium
Versailles senior Kooper Wilson and junior Michael Trotter had a difficult road ahead of them at the Class 1 state tournament this past weekend in Columbia.
After both wrestlers suffered a loss before the semifinals, just one more loss would mean their tournament would come to an end without any medals. However, neither Wilson or Trotter let that happen as the former grappler won three straight matches to guarantee himself a spot on the podium and the latter did the same winning two straight matches of his own.
By the time the tournament wrapped up on Saturday night, Trotter picked up his second straight fifth place medal and Wilson earned his second sixth place medal. It was the second year in a row that the Tigers produced two state medalists and Versailles coach Shawn Brantley said this duo showed just as much resolve as any other.
“They both had to come through the tough way,” the coach pointed out with a smile. “But I think it was just being mentally tough enough to keep pushing through… That is what it takes. You just have to be tough enough to push through, believe that you can still get it done and they both did.”
And by doing so, both wrestlers maintained what has become commonplace at Versailles, which is bringing home a state medal.
“It feels great to be a Versailles Tiger. We’ve had a good wrestling program for quite a few years and it feels good to keep that tradition going,” Wilson stated.
Trotter’s journey back to the medal stand started off well in the 182-pound class as he won by fall in his opening match. However, his journey took a difficult turn in the quarterfinals when he lost by pin to Whitfield’s Noah Elmore (43-6), who went on to eventually make a run to the championship match.
But the junior bounced back strong with a 10-2 major decision and a pin to guarantee himself a medal before falling in an 8-7 decision to Marceline’s Seth Cup (33-23) in the consolation semifinals and taking down Lawson’s Kameren Jenkins (29-8) by pin for fifth place.
Nothing was guaranteed for the junior and Trotter said the key to getting back to the medal stand was mental preparation and confidence that you have what it takes to win.
“You have to visualize the win and take it. That is all there is to it,” he said. “I did not perform as well as I wanted to at this tournament, but I had a great season and have a lot of coaches I can thank for that. I just got to know that I have to come back with my head on straight next year and do better than what I have.”
Brantley has no doubt that the wrestler can do just that, noting just how much potential he has after finishing the season 48-7.
“I know he is not happy. He had been ranked fourth most of the year, loses a match to a kid in the consolation semifinals that he has pinned twice and it happens,” the coach remarked. “That kid was on a hot streak, but he (Trotter) came back and finished in fifth place.
There is a lot of room for improvement there and he is nowhere near his ceiling. I think that has kind of been our message to him is that you have to come in this summer, take the next step and be at the top of that podium.”
The two-time state medalist is ready to take on that challenge.
“I know that I have to put in a lot of work and I am going to. I am ready to take a state championship next year,” the junior said. “This year was a great year and I wish I could have done better, but I just have to take care of it next year.”
Wilson was ready to end his absence from the medal stand.
The four-time state qualifier won a sixth place medal his freshman year, but a string of injuries his sophomore and junior seasons made that feat a little more difficult to repeat. However, after losing by fall in the opening round of the tournament this year, Wilson was determined to fight his way back through and prevent that tournament-ending loss.
“Making it to state sophomore and junior year, but not getting anything, it feels really good to finally get some hardware again,” the senior said.
And that determination was never more evident than the bubble match that would decide whether or not he was going to get a medal. After picking up a pin and grinding out a 6-5 decision to get there, Wilson found himself trailing by two points to Brentwood’s Chase Lynch (28-10) with about 15 seconds left. As the seconds ticked away, Wilson got a reversal and two near fall points to win the match 6-3. He fittingly proceeded to let out a shout of joy.
“I was losing and I just did not really give up. It was my last go at it so I gave it everything I got and everything worked out good,” the senior said of the match.
And his perseverance did not go unnoticed either as 2016 Versailles graduate and state finalist Dylan Ballew saw just how much perseverance his former teammate had.
“Kooper had to come all the way back through. Dylan sitting on the side said, ‘You could just see it in his eyes. He was not done and he was going to hit that switch and put the kid on his back,’” Brantley recalled.
Wilson went on to fall to Gallatin’s Drayton Harris (39-7) by pin in the consolation semifinals and Lawson’s Braden Carpenter (29-11) via a 10-7 decision in the fifth place match to finish the year 44-12, but it could not take away from the career he put together as a Tiger.
“I’ve said it before. If Kooper does not get hurt his sophomore year, he owns every team record and I have no doubt he is probably a four-time medalist and not just two,” Brantley said of the senior. “He has battled back from everything you could think of. He broke his back, broke his ankle and found a way to qualify both of those years.
“You could just kind of see it. Even though he got upset in the semifinals at districts last week, he was focused. He knew he wanted a medal to end his career and he just did it.”
While Wilson will certainly be missed, the coach is hoping his other grapplers took notice of the way the senior went about his business as well because of the example he set.
“They should have been paying attention to everything he does in the practice room, the way he eats and the way he works out outside of the wrestling room. He just embodies everything we want the kids in our program to do,” Brantley said. “He had to step up this year and be the leader and I cannot give him enough credit.”
However, Wilson also took the time to commend his coaches as well in his parting words to his teammates.
“Just give it everything you got. I mean, you got great coaches so put in the work, trust them and you’ll do pretty good,” he offered as advice. “You’re in good hands.”
Another year has drawn to a close and although Versailles may not have sent as many wrestlers as it would have liked, both Wilson and Trotter could provide the spark for future Tigers to maintain that presence on the state podium.
“As I’ve said all year, this is a reloading season for us. We are very young but something like this though, for Kooper to go out his senior year with another medal and Michael to come back and get another medal, that gives us something to keep building on,” Brantley noted. “Younger kids can look at that and kind of see what it takes for them to get in that same position.”
And a bright future may be on the horizon for the program. Trotter will be back and state qualifier Payton Lafoy, who finished the year 31-19 and had a tough start to his state tournament losing a pin and 4-2 decision, will look to build upon his experience as well. Then there are other wrestlers like Riley Rademann who were on the brink of qualifying and an incoming freshman class that may turn some heads.
“We have a huge group of very talented eighth graders that are going to step right in, fill some huge holes for us and improve us immediately,” the coach pointed out. “You have kids like Payton Lafoy and Riley Rademann that are going to be a year older and have that experience they did not have coming into this year. I fully expect them to take the next step and we are going to be right back in the thick of things next year.”