Trio of Versailles wrestlers earn first state medals
A theme at Versailles that Coach Shawn Brantley and his staff have been emphasizing is the idea of ‘Why not us?'"
It was an idea that helped the program qualify six wrestlers to the Class 1 State Tournament at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence on Wednesday and that theme was present once again as a trio of juniors in Kannen Wilson, Alex Radefeld and Kyle Flieger earned their first state medals and a spot on the podium as one of the six best wrestlers in their respective weight classes.
“Really, overall, we wrestled pretty well today. Even the ones that lost, we were in most of those matches and had a shot,” Brantley said of a tournament that was completed in a single day where previous tournaments before the era of COVID-19 were completed in three.
That theme was present, but Brantley also noted how relaxed his wrestlers were, too, not letting pressure be too much of a factor on the mats. Versailles finished 21st in the state as a team with 31 points.
“We kind of talked ahead of time and were looking at what people were projecting us to do and nobody had us winning a match in the first round,” the coach recalled. “We came out and did some good stuff, proved all those folks wrong and got out of here with three medals instead of none like we were projected to get.”
Wilson defied those projections from the start in his journey at 113 pounds with a pin fall that just took 20 seconds over Albany’s Gavin Shush (10-4), a returning sixth place medalist at 106 pounds. Up next for Wilson was North Callaway’s Lane Kimbley (37-9) in the quarterfinals and the junior dropped a 6-1 decision that sent him to wrestlebacks where he had to win his next two matches to guarantee a medal.
That is precisely what Wilson did as he earned a 15-6 major decision over Richmond’s Ricky Russ (15-8) and narrowly won a 3-2 decision in the consolation semifinals over David Maschger (20-19) of St. Michael the Archangel. After earning a spot in the fifth place match, he quickly proceeded to jump into the arms of Assistant Brian Markway.
“I mean, I even told my teammates it was almost like a dream. I couldn’t believe it was real,” said Wilson who was a returning state qualifier. “I felt all the hard work I’ve put in over the season and all the hard work I’ve put in over the summer and during the offseason paid off and there is just no better feeling. It was definitely worth it and I’d go back and do it all over again if I had to.”
Wilson went on to face Trenton’s Hunter McAtee (39-4) in his final match of the day and the junior fell to the returning third place medalist from the 106-pound class by pin fall to finish the year 36-10. But, he is coming home with a sixth place medal and in doing so, he joined his older brother and former Versailles wrestler Kooper Wilson as a state medalist.
“I felt a little bit of pressure coming into this tournament. I knew it was going to be tough from the get-go, but it just feels awesome knowing our family has accomplished so much in this program,” the junior said as he added a third state medal for the family.
He may have felt a little bit of pressure, but he also carried plenty of confidence over from districts and sectionals and a belief he was going to be successful. It did not always work out in his favor, but he is pretty satisfied with the results.
“I think that mindset of, ‘I’m going to go out and try to dominate my opponent as much as I can no matter what happens-‘ I think that is what gave me the mental edge over my opponents and obviously it worked.
“Same plan for next year- get back to work not just physically, but mentally, and keep my mind straight,” Wilson continued. “Hopefully, I’ll get another medal next year.”
Radefeld had to take the long path to a sixth place medal at 145 pounds after dropping his first match of the day to Gallatin’s Draven Wright (28-8) by pin fall in the third period. His only choice was to keep winning and it began with a 9-2 decision over Lafayette County’s Isaiah Myers (32-6). Radefeld went on to defeat Butler’s Ostin VanVoorst (38-6) in a critical 8-4 decision in the consolation semifinals to get to the fifth place match in his first state tournament.
“I lost to that guy four times so I really didn’t think I would win. When I won I was super happy and it is the first time I can say I got a medal so that makes me even more happy,” the junior said, noting a vote of confidence from his girlfriend gave him the edge he needed.
He was also happy to be able to wrestle with his older brother Zachary, a senior returning state qualifier at the tournament who overcame an ankle injury at sectionals to win a crucial match to get there.
“It was amazing. I got to sit by him the entire time, I got to cheer him on and he got to cheer me on,” Radefeld noted.
Now, one final season remains for the 145-pounder who is confident he will be back at the final tournament of the year.
“I’m trying to not get out of shape again like last year so I’ll be ready right off the bat,” he said.
Well, he may have just one slice of cake, though, after earning a medal.
Like dyeing the hair blonde any time a wrestler becomes a state qualifier, another tradition at Versailles is cake being reserved for state medalists. Brantley said the tradition was picked up from Penn State University wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and another wrestler who earned that slice of cake was Flieger who wrestled to a fourth place finish at 160 pounds.
“It was definitely a shock since I was projected not to win any. It was a lot fun and I really had fun today doing that,” Flieger said of making the semifinals in his first state tournament. “What I was rooting for today was having fun and praising God and my coach told me today if I medaled I’d get a piece of cake.”
Flieger (28-14) began with a pin fall victory over Gallatin’s Logan Botcher (24-12) and managed to do the same thing against North Callaway’s Eli Henry (37-12). He dropped his semifinal match to Lawson’s Tanner Leonard (27-2) and his third place match to Mid-Buchanan’s Chase Davidson (35-2), but a fourth place finish is something he can build upon.
“I’m definitely going to build off this going into next year, trying to get higher and maybe even a state championship,” Flieger said, looking ahead to his senior season.
There were three other Tigers who came up shy of a spot on the podium.
Freshman Tristan Gavette (29-12) lost his first match by fall with two seconds left in the final period to New Madrid County’s Quazavion Jackson (29-4) who was a returning fourth place medalist at 220 pounds. He met Lone Jack’s Nathaniel Ory (36-11) in the second round of consolation and saw his first state tournament end in a 6-3 tiebreaker. Meanwhile, the elder Radefeld (35-7) dropped his first match at 152 pounds to Lathrop’s Drystin Dotson (24-6) in an 8-6 sudden victory and fell in the second round of consolation to Lawson’s Norman Sizemore (31-8) in a tough 5-4 decision.
“I definitely had a blast although it didn’t end the way I wanted it. It was still fun,” said Radefeld who moved to Versailles with his brothers, Alex and Matthew, before his junior season.
“When I moved here I didn’t really want to wrestle any more, but my brother (Alex) talked me back into it so I decided to go out for at least one more year and the coaches were such amazing coaches. It was definitely fun.”
Another senior in Mason Hibdon (28-11) came up just short of a medal after reaching the consolation semifinals. He lost his first match by fall to Palmyra’s Luke Triplett (20-4), came back with a 3-1 sudden victory over Adrian’s William Brown (15-11) who he previously lost to in sectionals and lost his final match to Centralia’s Sam Lynn (31-8).
“Thanks for everything they did for the program,” Brantley said of his message to his pair of seniors. “Hate the way it ended, but we won’t forget.”
Overall, the program was able to reach the finale in the middle of a pandemic and Brantley was appreciative of that opportunity.
“We didn’t know if we’d have a state tournament at all. We got to the end, here, we got through it and that is all you can ask for is a shot,” the coach said. “These guys took advantage of that shot.”
With three returning medalists, a returning state qualifier in Gavette and Connor Lehman who qualified for state two years ago, Brantley is wanting his program to continue to take advantage of those shots.
“There are going to be some open trophy spots next year and if we are going to continue this, ‘Why not us?’ theme, it is time,” he said of his program that last earned a state team trophy in 2016 by finishing fourth. “It has been a few years since we’ve been in the trophy hunt so, ‘Why not us?’ Let’s get there.”
Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-346-2132