Two days before the state wrestling tournament, Korbin Shepherd wasn’t feeling any butterflies or tension. The Blue Springs junior has been there, done that and is ready to do it again.
“I’m definitely having more fun with it,” Shepherd said Tuesday. “Last year I was all stressed out because of injuries, but this year I’m definitely having more fun with it and more relaxed.”
Don’t think Shepherd is blase about making his third appearance in the boys state tournament, which runs from Thursday to Saturday along with the girls tournament at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. But after making it to two finals and winning the Class 4 120-pound weight class last year, Shepherd won’t be fazed by the large crowds or the multi-mat circus as he competes for the 126-pound title.
Neither should four of the Wildcats’ other five state qualifiers, who have also been there before.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Blue Springs coach Bobbe Lowe said. “They know what it’s all about. All of them have been there multiple times and they can share things with other guys on the team. They can say, ‘Hey, this is what this is like and this is what’s going to happen here.’”
Besides Shepherd, two Wildcats are making a third trip to state: Cayden Dotson, a 120-pounder who took fourth at 106 last year, and DeAndre Thomas, who was fifth at 126 pounds in 2018 and is in the 152 bracket this year. Jaxson McIntyre (152) is making his second appearance. Freshman heavyweight Brock Sullivan is the Wildcats’ lone state rookie.
“Having been there before, you get all the nerves out of the way the year before,” Dotson said. “So you kind of know what to expect when you get down there. Just the experience alone will help in the long run against kids who maybe haven’t been there before.”
Shepherd feels the previous experience is definitely a plus even for a wrestler with a target on his back. With a 39-1 record and another district championship under his belt, Shepherd will be the favorite in his bracket.
And he’s fine with that.
“I kind of like it,” Shepherd said. “I’m just going to take it one match at a time and whoever’s out in front of me is who I’m going to prepare for and be excited to go wrestle. The next match is the biggest match.”
With only five qualifiers in the field, Blue Springs will be hard-pressed to compete in the team standings. Nationally ranked Liberty, with 13 entries, is the Class 4 favorite. But Shepherd doesn’t think it’s a given the Wildcats will go home empty-handed.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was we’re going to leave Columbia, Missouri, with a team trophy,” Shepherd said. “And that’s still the goal. With these guys, I wouldn’t put anything past them.”
Like Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit North has five entries and some state experience. Heavyweight Mark McGhee, 39-4 and a district champion, is making a second state appearance along with Triston Jones (160). Zane Ragland (182) also wrestled at state last year. Aaron Barnhill (195) and David Spiller (132) are also competing for the Broncos when the Class 4 and Class 3 first-round matches get underway at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Fort Osage is also taking five, including state returnee Josh Rieck, who is 42-9 this season at 160 pounds. Keegan Emerick (106), Waylon Mansfield (126), Gavin Roller (220) and heavyweight Stevie Gabb are also in the Class 4 field.
CLASS 3: Grain Valley has six in the Class 3 tournament, headed by two-time qualifiers Hunter Newsom and Trent Starr. Newsom (38-5) won a district title last week at 182 and Starr (37-8) is returning to state at 126 after not wrestling last season. Dru Azcona (113), Drake Tipton (170), Buddy Mickelson (152) and Donovan McBride (285) are the Eagles’ other entries.
William Chrisman is represented by Mason Walters (182), a state-qualifier last season, and Rico Alaniz (160). Van Horn’s Ethan Moses (36-7) is making his third state appearance at 120.
CLASS 2: Oak Grove has nine in the Class 2 tournament. Adrian Whitehead, 35-6 at 170, and Zander Brineger, 30-4 at 195, go in as district champions and top seeds. Oak Grove’s other entries are Kaden Scarborough (113), Chayton Kellum (132), Carson Smith (138), Anthony Erickson (145), Brody Armstrong (152), Garrett Hudspeth (220) and Caleb Goff (285). First-round matches begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.
GIRLS: Fort Osage freshman Haley Ward is a newcomer to the second-ever girls state tournament, but she’s hardly new to wrestling. A gold medalist last year in the under-15 Pan American Games, Ward brings a 32-0 record to the 130 bracket. Tess Kinne, who took fourth in the inaugural girls tournament, is back at 135 pounds and Rachel Rellihan is in the 142 field.
William Chrisman also has three girls qualified, led by district champion Mary-Mae McMillan. McMillan is 35-3 at 187 pounds. Meraid Jorgensen (142) and Kiara Baldridge (235) are the Bears’ other contenders.
Truman will be represented by Ava Miller, a sophomore who is 30-3 at 166, when opening-round matches start at 2 p.m. Thursday.