There has been an ongoing trend for the wrestling program at Eldon and it is evident in the form of state titles or state medals.

There has been an ongoing trend for the wrestling program at Eldon and it is evident in the form of state titles or state medals. 

Among the 14 times a Mustang wrestler has qualified for state since Eldon coach Ryan Bird took over the program in 2016, all but two have walked away with a medal and All-State honors. The program has enjoyed seeing at least one of its own reach a state championship match the past four years and three have become state champions.  

Eldon senior Kaden Dillon and freshman Olivia Chapman added their own chapters to that success on Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, etching their own names into the history of a young program that began in 2012. Dillon became the next state champion, winning the Class 2 title at 195 pounds, and Chapman became the first female medalist in program history when she placed sixth at 135. 

“Hard work, hard work. Every one of the kids we’ve had in the finals whether it be a champion or runner-up have worked their butt off,” Bird said, noting Chapman’s own hard work as well. “They’ve been leaders in the room, they take the weight room serious and it pays off.” 

And while he has led the program through all of this success, he said it has not been done alone. 

“I’ve got some great assistant coaches that help out and can lead when I cannot be around or they step up and I don’t have to tell them what to do,” he said of assistants Joe Herman and Joe Drake. “It is not me, it is the assistant coaches, the weight room guys and the kids on the team that are leaders and want to get better and bring in other kids. It is pretty awesome to be a part of.” 

Dillon has been part of that journey for the past three years and has three of those medals, his final one shining most brightly among the top of the podium after winning a state championship in the final match of his high school career.  

“It is really crazy. Having my teammates, family and coaches all there to help me through the practices, to do the stuff I did not want to do and pushing me to be a state champion now,” said Dillon who had an injury that prevented him from wrestling as a freshman and nagging injuries when he finished sixth in the state the past two seasons. 

“I have to thank everyone I’ve worked with for the past three years of my high school career. They definitely got me to where I am now and to be standing on top of the podium, my lifelong dream has been reached.” 

Dillon joins a group at Eldon which includes 2019 graduates Dawson Brandt and Isaiah Simmons, the former a finalist and latter a state champion, as well as his own brother Trenton Dillon who reached the top as a state champion in 2018. 

“It was amazing watching him finally get the state championship,” Dillon said of his older brother who actually reached the state finals two years in a row and also went out on top in his final high school match. “He has come to practice every day that he can and helped me a lot with his speed and aggression. He made me learn how to defend shots better, take my own shots better and it defintey helped a lot having him there.” 

Sure enough, the former state champion was helping little brother prepare for the final show, helping him warm up in the tunnels of Mizzou Arena as the state finals got underway. The two had also previously watched film together on Dillon’s state final opponent, whom Dillon had previously wrestled in the semifinals at districts. Through all of that, nothing could prepare the senior for a state championship becoming a reality.

“You cannot explain how that feels, being a state champion. I don’t think you can put that into words,” Dillon stated.

Well, there are now two state champions in the Dillon family and freshman Anmarie Dillon almost joined her older brother at state, nearly making the cut at districts.  

“The Dillon family, they are good wrestlers. Even Annie, she did not qualify this year but she’ll be back next year,” Bird said.  

“We were relaxed all weekend, but ‘K.D.’ has put in the work. Did not wrestle freshman year, came out and medaled twice and I know he was disappointed last year with his medal but he had the mindset from day one this year he was going to be a state champ so that is what we worked for. He stuck to the game plan in his last two matches and it worked out great.” 

Good thing, too, because Harrisonville’s Trevor Campbell gave Dillon a pretty good fight in the district semifinals. It was a match the senior was able to win with an 8-7 decision on a late takedown and Saturday night’s title match was not much different.

After marching to the finals with a pin fall over Maryville’s Keiren Watkins (32-2), a 13-2 major decision over St. James’ Zachary Woodson (35-19) and a 7-2 decision over Oak Grove’s Zander Bringer (33-6), Dillon was set for a rematch with Campbell (39-6).  

A defensive battle most of the way, the first period ended with no score. Campbell started with an escape early in the second for a 1-0 lead heading into the third and just like the district semifinal, Dillon got the job done in the final two minutes. It began with an immediate escape to start the period to tie it and with about 30 second left Dillon got a takedown to go up 3-1. Campbell secured one more escape point, but Dillon defended well the rest of the way and sealed it with one final takedown in the final seconds for a 5-2 decision. 

“I did not want to force anything because he is a strong guy. You can definitely counter something I do wrong so I was waiting for my chance to finally take a clean shot and it appeared so I took the ‘Double Leg’ and ended up taking him down,” Dillon explained. “I realized I could either hold him and potentially get a reverse or just cut him and I knew I could defend his shots and anything he throws to me. I just wrestled from there and decided to do the second choice I had.”

Dillon wrapped up his final season at 45-4 and for Bird, the final match was just another opportunity for the senior to execute what he had worked on all year. 

“We always talk about cardio and cardio-wise we are in better shape than everybody,” the coach said. “We can go deep in the third period, be tied 1-1 or down 1-0 and it does not affect us. We can keep wrestling and are good for seven or eight minutes if we have to.”

Chapman can attest to that because part of her journey to the podium required her finding a way to win in overtime. A loss would have sent her home empty-handed. 

Chapman actually started her tournament with a loss as Makayla Johnson of St. Clair (38-11) secured a 2-0 decision. From there, the young freshman won three matches in a row to guarantee a medal and she got the job done with a pin over Staley’s Madison Schmude (23-13), a 9-7 sudden victory over Sikeston’s Lila Eckert (26-11) and a 7-4 decision against Troy Buchanan’s Allie Burt (28-13).  

“It did not work out like we thought it was going to. We lost in the first round but she battled back and won three matches,” Bird said. She had a great weekend. I think she is a little disappointed with sixth place, but to be a freshman and medal at the state tournament is pretty amazing. She’ll be pretty proud of it in a day or two.” 

A division for girls was started in Missouri last season and Chapman was one of the pioneers for the ladies of Eldon this year among the first to compete in the new division. She wrapped up her freshman season at 33-8 with a loss to St. Charles’ Cassidy Head (30-11) in a 7-5 decision and a loss to Rolla’s Hannah O’Connor (34-4) by pin fall, but the first female medalist in program history probably does not sound so bad.

“It has been crazy. I don’t think it has sunk in yet how big this is,” said Chapman who also wrestled in middle school. “A lot of hard work, you have to be tough to do it.” 

Bird recalled the St. Clair Tournament as the moment where he and Drake realized what she could be capable of, noting things just clicked. 

“Coach Drake and I were like, ‘Wow, she is pretty good. She is really good and is going to get to state and do pretty well.’ It is good to see that happen,” he remarked. “She is going to do some growing. We are going to try to get her in the weight room and get her a little bit bigger and put on a little bit of muscle. She is already strong, but you can never be too strong.” 

Chapman certainly does not need any extra motivation. 

“I want to get first so for the next three years I plan on working my butt off,” the freshman said. 

Now, it is up to Chapman and the other Mustangs to continue the traditions that have resulted in state medals and titles the past few years. The offseason presents a good opportunity to make that happen.  

“We were really young and inexperienced this year, but we got better. Our guys were a lot better at the end than the beginning but we have to keep improving and wrestle this spring,” Bird said of the path. “We got to get into some freestyle stuff, hit the camps like we have been and hit the weight room. We have to get better overall if we want to keep this trend.”