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Things to look for at Saturday's district wrestling tournaments

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Blue Springs' 132-pounder Korbin Shepherd, right, is 24-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state entering Saturday's Class 4 District 7 tournament at Blue Springs High School. Shepherd, who won a state title as a sophomore and finished second last year, is the favorite to repeat his district title as the Wildcats are expected to battle Lee's Summit North for the team district crown.

The start of the boys wrestling postseason commences Saturday, a week after the girls, part of a five-week postseason stretch that will run through the state championships that will be held March 9-13 at Cable Dahmer Arena.

Most years the start of district postseason means the state tournament is only a week away, but due to COVID-19 measures there were wholesale changes on the path to state. In past years, the top four finishers in districts punched a ticket to Columbia to wrestle at Mizzou Arena.

This year, the top four finishers out of districts will still move on, but this time, to a newly formed sectional round. From there, the top three advance to the state tournament and its new 12-wrestler bracket instead of the usual 16.

“One thing that I do not like is that they are taking away a state qualifier from the kids,” Blue Springs South coach Doug Black said. “Instead of a 16-man bracket at state it will now be a 12-man (bracket), so a few good kids will not make it this year.”

The Missouri State High School Activities Association said it had to pare the usually large all-at-once three-day tournament at Mizzou Arena in Columbia to single-day, 12-man brackets for each class because of National Federation of State High School Associations’ COVID-19 guidelines.

Below is some of what to watch for from the Eastern Jackson County area’s 10 teams that will compete in four different districts across four different classifications.

Class 4 District 7 favorites

Blue Springs will host the Class 4 District 7 tournament that will also feature Blue Springs South, Lee’s Summit North, Truman, North Kansas City, Raytown and Rockhurst.

According to the state rankings by MissouriWrestling.com, there are seven wrestlers ranked and four of them hail from the Wildcats. That group is all returning state qualifiers in Cayden Dotson, Korbin Shepherd, Jaxson McIntyre and Brock Sullivan.

Shepherd is vying for his fourth state medal after a state championship as a sophomore and runner-up finishes his freshman and junior years. The Missouri signee is currently 24-0 and ranked No. 1 at 132 pounds. He will be the odds-on-favorite to win the district crown.

Blue Springs' Cayden Dotson, left, tries to turn Staley's Jacob Windsor onto his back in their 126-pound championship match in the Lee's Summit Holiday Tournament earlier this season. Dotson is ranked fourth at 126 again this year after finishing fourth at state each of the last two seasons.

Dotson (14-3) is ranked No. 4 in 126 and has placed fourth the past two years. McIntyre and Sullivan, both 25-4, are ranked No. 6 (160) and No. 5 (285), respectively.

The Wildcats will have wrestlers in 12 of the 14 weight classes.

“Districts will be very quick this year unlike most years where it is a two-day tournament,” Blue Springs coach Bobbe Lowe said. “With only having seven teams and many of those teams not having full lineups it will go very quick. Look for us and Lee’s Summit North to fight for the district title. We have to win some finals matches and key matchups against them, but if we can wrestle well we have a shot.”

The Broncos have a pair of ranked wrestlers in Aaron Barnhill (No. 3 at 195) and Trevor Taylor (No. 6 at 285). The only other wrestler in the ranking is North Kansas City’s Xavier Doolin, No. 1 at 220 – a weight class in which he was a state runner-up last season.

The Broncos will have a full lineup at districts headlined by the state-ranked wrestlers and Caden Schwietzer (24-9), a senior who is a two-time state qualifier.

Barnhill (27-2) is tied for the most wins on the roster heading into district with 138-pounder Trey Robinson (27-8). Taylor and Javi Gutierrez (145) both have 25 wins.

“We gave our guys an extra day off and we shortened practice,” Lee’s Summit North coach Mick Cronk said of changes this year. “Having less time in the room, we have amped up the intensity a little. We expect to compete to the best of our ability. That's all we can ask for.”

In sectionals, which will be on Feb. 27 at Staley High School, will be some of the top teams in the state. That district features last year’s Class 4 state champion (Liberty), runner-up (Park Hill) and third-place finisher (Staley).

More:Blue Spring wrestler Korbin Shepherd signs letter of intent for sixth-ranked Mizzou program

Down, not out for Blue Springs South and Truman

Blue Springs South and Truman will have a chance to get sectional qualifiers despite rosters that aren’t heavy in the top-end talent like Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit North.

The Jaguars are expecting to have nearly a full lineup at district – depending on the return from quarantine for some wrestlers.

Blue Springs South will have 10 underclassmen – freshmen and sophomores – among the projected 13 spots. The top three records belong to underclassmen: sophomore Tommy LaPour (220/26-9), sophomore Zander Dombrowski (170/18-6) and freshman Logan Mainard (106/18-12).

Blue Springs South sophomore 220-pounder Tommy LaPour raises his hand after a victory at Truman earlier this season. LaPour enters Saturday's Class 4 District 7 tournament at Blue Springs High School, with a 26-9 record.

“As far as going to a sectional instead of one big super district it is not going to really affect how we see things throughout the rest of the year,” Black said. “We know that to get through district and sectionals is going to be a huge challenge for our young kids, I fully believe in them and they have accepted the challenge of getting to the state tournament.”

The Patriots had only 10 wrestlers in their final dual of the season, a 33-28 win over district foe Raytown.

Truman has four wrestlers with winning records, headlined by junior Nathan Noda (138) at 20-11 and senior Dylan McCutcheon (145) at 18-6.

More:Prep wrestling roundup: Jaguars take down Trojans, Bears

Grain Valley’s short voyage

Grain Valley is the only area team traveling to Grandview in what will be a district with some tough foes. Belton, Warrensburg, Ruskin, Raytown South and Bolivar will also be there. The latter took third place in Class 2 last year and are coached by Jeff Davis, who led Park Hill to state titles in 2015-16.

Grain Valley's Dru Azcona, right, faces off against Neosho's Landon Kivett in last year's 113-pound state fifth-place match. Azcona won that match 8-7 and is ranked fifth in the state at 113 pounds again this year heading into Saturday's Class 3 District 7 tournament at Grandview High School.

A matchup that could be interesting would be Bolivar’s Canyon Cunningham and Grain Valley’s Drew Azcona, both at 113. Azcona, who finished fifth at state last year, is ranked No. 5, while Cunningham took third place last year in Class 2 and stayed in the same weight class.

The Eagles also have Tanner Barker (138/No. 3/25-3) and Hunter Newsom (195/No. 2/11-0) in the rankings. Newsom was third at 182 in last year’s state championship.

Barker could get a challenge from Grandview’s LJ Davenport, who is ranked No. 5.

The best record for the Eagles belongs to freshman Gavin Parks, who is 27-2 at 106.

Grain Valley's Hunter Newsom, top, pins Blue Springs South's Cooper Boyles in a 195-pound match earlier this season. Newsom, after returning from an injury, is 11-0 entering Saturday's Class 3 District 7 tournament at Grandview. Newsom finished third in the state at 182 pounds last year.

Class 3 District 8 is loaded 

The Class 3 District 8 meet, held in Kearney, will feature a handful of quality teams. Kearney placed third in state last year, while Smithville was fourth. Add in Platte County, Winnetonka, William Chrisman, Van Horn and Fort Osage, and this is one of the deeper districts in the state.

“We expect the district tournament will have a quick and lively pace,” said Fort Osage coach Brandon Wackerman, whose team will have 12 wrestlers competing. “The bracket sizes are small and some wrestlers could be starting their postseason already in the district semifinal match. We don't have multiple matches to warm up like you would some years with a big district bracket, or in the way that some two-day tournaments have looked in the past. You have to be ready and wrestling at your best right from the first whistle.”

Fort Osage's Jesse Newton, right, and Truman's Dylan McCutcheon tangle in a dual match earlier this season. Newton enters Saturday's Class 3 District 8 meet in Kearney with a 25-5 record and a state ranking at 152 pounds. McCutcheon, who is 18-6 entering the Class 4 District 7 tournament at Blue Springs, is one of four Truman wrestlers with a winning record.

Van Horn will have 11 wrestlers there, while William Chrisman will be taking seven.

Of the three local teams, only the Indians have any wrestlers ranked: Jesse Newton, David Jacquez and Stevie Gabb.

Gabb is one of three returning state qualifiers for Fort Osage, joined by Daniel Tapusoa and Dylan Reed. Gabb is 32-4 and ranked No. 3 at 285.

Jacquez (195) is 24-9 and his success there has bumped Tapusoa (18-7) down to 170. Newton is 25-5 and could run into Kearney’s Ben Locke, ranked No. 3, during the meet at 152.

Other Indians that could be considered contenders to advance are freshman Rylan Mansfield (120/23-2 overall), junior Reed (126/25-5), senior Bryan Herrera (132/27-10) and senior Jeremiah Phillips (160/24-7).

Fort Osage's David Jacquez, front, tries to escape the grasp of William Chrisman's Mason Walters during their 195-pound match earlier this season. Walters won but both will be in different weight classes for Saturday's Class 3 District 8 tournament at Kearney. Walters, who is 33-6, will be seeking his fourth straight state berth at 182, while Jacquez is 24-9 at state ranked at 195 pounds.

Chrisman’s Mason Walters will be starting his quest for a fourth straight berth at the state meet. The senior is 33-6 and is a favorite to win but expect a challenge from Platte County freshman Ben Fernandez, who is 24-2.

Riley Ragan (113/21-7), Andru Campos (195/20-10) and Nathan Campos (220/24-16) all have winning records for the Bears.

“We are hoping to get four or so out of districts and then we will just have to see at sectional,” Bears coach Riley Glasgow said, “Just have to wrestle well and stay focused on the task at hand.”

The Falcons’ top two wrestlers, based on records, are at the lower weights. Freshman Darrius Paige is 16-3 at 113, while returning state qualifier Ethan Moses is 21-8 at 120. A three-time state qualifier, Moses medaled as a sophomore.

“Our district is tough, many tough teams are in our district,” Van Horn coach Craig Addison said. “We have many tough brackets to get through. However, I am expecting many of our wrestlers to make it out to sectionals and have the opportunity to make it to the state tournament in four weeks.”

More:Fort Osage girls send five to wrestling sectionals

Mini-state meet in Class 2 District 7

The Class 2 District 7 meet in Chillicothe is loaded with talent not only individually, but team-wise. Oak Grove travels north to compete with Boonville, Kirksville, Marshall, Moberly and Odessa, last year’s Class 2 runner-up.

That group of teams combined for 18 state medalists last year, including fourth-place finishes from Kaden Scarborough and Zander Brinegar from Oak Grove. Both are back this year with varied amounts of success. Scarborough (132) is 7-2, while Brinegar (220) is currently 29-0. Brinegar’s undefeated mark could be challenged by state placer Jarrett Kinder of Moberly, who is 36-3.

Oak Grove sophomore Caleb Groff is 24-1 and is in a loaded field at 285, including undefeated Payton Hahn from Boonville (23-0), Kirksville’s Bryce Kertz (27-4) and Moberly’s Andrew Huff (36-3).

More:McBride's return helps Eagles claim title

Guardians host in Class 1 District 5

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic will host a district tournament for the first time on Saturday, as the Class 1 District 5 meet will bring Lafayette County, Lexington, St. Pius X, Summit Christian Academy and University Academy coming to Lee’s Summit.

Tradition-wise, Lafayette County and Lexington have been solid Class 1 programs, with Lexington coming off a top-10 finish last year, but all three of its state medalists from last year are gone.

The field is expected to be small with some teams fielding partial lineups. University Academy and Summit Christian have a combined 10 wrestlers.

The Guardians will have 13 wrestlers at districts, the exception coming at 132. This will be the first competition for St. Michael since the Grandview Tournament on Jan. 29.

“With the breaks this year, it has actually helped our team,” Guardians coach Matt Infranca said. “We have a pretty inexperienced team as far as wrestling. We have some great athletes, but the extended break has helped us continue to work and improve our overall skill level. It can be tough on the guys not competing and managing their weight, but we have had a really good two weeks of practice.”

The Guardians have three standout wrestlers who should challenge for a district crown. Freshman Lucas Barry is 35-1 and leads the team in pins and total points this year at 106 pounds. Junior Drew Stanfield takes a perfect 33-0 record into districts and should be the favorite at 126. Stanfield has the most near falls, takedowns and tech falls this winter for St. Michael.

Jackson Wimberly (182) is 26-9, the third most wins on the team.

“I think overall, we have a good shot of getting all of our guys through and bringing the first district wrestling title to St. Michael,” Infranca said. “It would be great to do it at home. The guys know what's up for grabs and they have to go get what they have earned. We have some tough teams in our district and we need to wrestle our best to accomplish some goals we have for Saturday.”