During the 2016-17 season, Oak Grove wrestler Connor Brown will have a chance to do what only 26 others have done in the history of Missouri high school wrestling – win a fourth state title.
The junior 120-pounder has been at the top of his game since his freshman year winning three consecutive state titles while going undefeated in his last two.
This year’s championship didn’t come easy. Near the beginning of the season he was out for six weeks with a broken hand he suffered during practice and missed a pair of matches and tournaments. He recovered from the injury and came back to make the Class 2 state championship match. He was undefeated and was the favorite to win against Alex Rivera, whom Brown defeated in districts, but the Smithville 120-pounder gave the junior a stiff challenge. The Oak Grove standout needed a reversal in the last five seconds of the match to pull out the victory.
“I am so tired – my legs, my body.” Brown said after that match as he was bent over breathing heavily. “He was a great competitor. I had to do something. So I tried a quick slip and got around to grabbing him (for the reversal). I just tried to do everything I could.”
He was one of just two local wrestlers to earn a state title, with the other being teammate Shawn Kavadas at 132 pounds. Because of his unblemished 2015-16 record and sustained success the last three years, Brown, who finished 36-0, earned the nod as The Examiner’s 2015-16 Wrestler of the Year.
Brown’s other two title came in the 106-pound division. He was 49-0 when he won it in 2015 and finished 41-5 during his freshman title reign, making him 126-5 for his high school career. He will undoubtedly be the favorite going into his senior year, but Oak Grove coach Bobbe Lowe said his 120-pounder is ready to tackle the challenge.
“Any time you’ve done something successfully a couple of times, now you’re back is up against the wall,” Lowe said. “That really steps up your focus and that’s what he had to do this year. I know he’s going to look to finish the season undefeated and go for that fourth state title.
“Last year, he was the favorite but not the heavy favorite. This year he will be the heavy favorite.”
Even though he’s won three consecutive titles, Brown isn’t about to lose motivation. Winning his fourth will be just as important as it was winning his first, second and third. He also could be the fourth person in the history of the storied Oak Grove program to win four titles, joining Matt Infranca, Brett Fry and Keith Dickey.
“You just have to go out every day in practice and try to get a little bit better,” Brown said. “You can’t worry about what other people are doing and just focus on you.
“I know I will think about it (attempting to be the 27th Missouri wrestler to win four state titles). I am just going to go out and work hard every day.”
That includes setting high goals for himself. This season, senior Landon Cairer broke Brown’s single-season record for most pins with 42 (the previous record was 39). He will look to turn the tables next year and is gunning for Cairer’s career record for career pins of 108 (breaking Infranca’s record). Brown will need 27 pins his senior year to beat it.
“Hopefully I can pull that off,” Brown said. “He (Cairer) always makes jokes because he beat my single-season record this year. I will need to decide which record I want to beat (the career or single-season).”
Brown’s success didn’t happen by accident. He dedicates a lot of his time to the sport year round.
“He’s a highly competitive kid and wrestling really is his thing,” Lowe said. “He wrestles all year round and does a lot of things all spring and summer outside of just the winter season. He does some freestyle wrestling during that time and Greco-Roman. He travels a lot and wrestles a lot of different guys.”
One of the most difficult challenges for Brown was jumping from the 106-pound division to 120, in which he faced wrestlers who had a size advantage on him. He didn’t let that deter him from having a memorable season, though.
“Moving up to 120 was a big change because the other kids are bigger and stronger,” Brown said. “I had to use more technique rather than muscling them over. It changed my style a little bit this year.”
Now, he’s one championship away from making history. If he’s able to win yet another state title, he could set himself up with a great future in the sport. Lowe, an NCAA All-American at Minnesota himself, said he believes Brown has a pretty good chance to land with an NCAA Division I school.
“I think there are a few that are kind of interested, but it’s still pretty early in the recruiting process,” said Lowe, a three-time state champion himself for Oak Grove. “In the next couple of months things will start to pick up for him because (universities) will be able to contact him. I know it’s something he wants to do and he’s put himself in a good position for people to look at him. I think he’s a Division I level and can definitely compete at that level.”