What to look for at boys sectional wrestling

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Jaxson McIntyre, front, is one of five district champions Blue Springs will enter into Saturday's Class 4 Sectional 4 tournament Saturday at Staley High School. Wrestlers will need a top three finish in the new sectional round to advance to state.

The latest round of the postseason run for area wrestlers will continue this Saturday at various locations throughout the metro area for teams in Eastern Jackson County.

Every team will have at least a handful of wrestlers competing at various sectional meets, a new facet to the schedule in a COVID-19 world that will have fewer state qualifiers than most years.

Districts were held on Feb. 13 and since then the teams have been practicing for the latest round, but this one will be a bit different with only three wrestlers moving onto the state finals instead of four, which happened in districts. The lower number allows the Missouri State High School Activities Association to follow COVID-19 protocols for fewer participants in one-day state tournaments.

Shortly after districts, Mother Nature arrived and the combination of snow and bone-chilling temperatures led to some revised practice schedules during the two-week break between competition.

“Really it is just like any other tournament throughout the year,” Blue Springs coach Bobbe Lowe said. “Work hard, focus on skills that win matches and be competitive. Trying to keep things the same but shorten our practice time really. Don’t want to reinvent the wheel this time of the year.”

Following this round, there will be another break before the MSHSAA State Championships, held March 9-13 at Cable Dahmer Arena. The girls will start off the festivities of one-day tournaments on March 9, followed in order from Class 1 to Class 4.

Two area teams will head into the sectional round — which has been used in golf and track and field in the past — as district champions: Lee’s Summit North and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic. That was the first district championship for both Lee’s Summit schools.

Here is what to look for in Saturday’s sectional tournaments:

Class 4 Sectional 4

There might not be a harder sectional meet than the one that will be at Staley High School on Saturday.

This sectional will feature last year’s top three teams in the state standings led by state champion Liberty. Park Hill and Staley have each brought home trophies over the past four years.

A dive down the rankings on MissouriWrestling.com shows more than 20 wrestlers in this sectional ranked in their respective weight classes.

Of the 14 weight classes, there are nine No. 1 ranked wrestlers in the state in this sectional.

Lee’s Summit North has only one of those wrestlers — No. 2 Aaron Barnhill at 195 pounds — but advanced all 14 wrestlers to the sectionals. The only other team to do that is Liberty, which had nine district champions and all 14 wrestlers in the finals.

“The guys are very proud about winning districts for the first time in school history ... but we know that there is a lot more work to be done,” Broncos coach Mick Cronk said. “This weekend is going very challenging. The kids' attitude and effort have been on point. We are excited about competing this weekend.”

The Broncos got district championships from Charlie Dykes (113 pounds/13-13 overall); Caden Schweitzer (120/26-9); Trey Robinson (138/29-8); Javi Gutierrez (145/27-8); Cody Steinbrugge (152/16-17) and Barnhill (195/28-2).

Schweitzer, Robinson, Gutierrez and Steinbrugge are all in a weight class with a No. 1-ranked wrestler from either Liberty or Park Hill.

Lowe’s Blue Springs Wildcats had a great deal of success at districts as well with all 12 wrestlers at the district meet moving onto sectionals. The 12 qualifiers matched the numbers put by Staley and Liberty North from the other district.

Blue Springs got district championships from Aleksei Wojtkiewicz (106/21-15); Korbin Shepherd (132/26-0); Jaxson McIntyre (160/27-4); Corbin Katamura (182/22-8) and Brock Sullivan (285/27-4), who beat previously state-ranked Trevor Taylor of Lee’s Summit North in the district finals.

Blue Springs' Korbin Shepherd, top, pins the arm of Matthew Lewis of Centerville, Iowa, behind his back during their 132-pound championship match in the Lee's Summit Holiday Tournament. Shepherd looks to remain undefeated and earn his fourth straight state berth in Saturday's sectional tournament at Staley High School.

Shepherd, who has signed with Missouri, is one of two wrestlers from District 7 to be ranked No. 1 in the state. The other is North Kansas City’s Xavier Doolin (220).

“The room has been competitive, but we also have much shorter practices to keep guys' legs fresh and feeling good,” Lowe said. “The guys have had to learn how to stay motivated, they have done a pretty good job of that and I think they are excited to compete this weekend.”

Blue Springs South will have 11 qualifiers and Truman will have four qualifiers — but the only district champion from that group is South’s Zander Dombrowski, who won the 170-pound title and is 21-6 on the year.

The Jaguars did have seven wrestlers reach the finals last week. The Patriots had a pair of third-place finishers: Nathan Noda (138/21-12) and Jaylon Pickens (160/15-11).

The other No. 1-ranked wrestlers in this field include Liberty’s Chandler Coates (120/28-1), Easton Hilton (126/28-1), Kage Lenger (138/27-3), Wentric Williams III (182/30-2) and Jeremiah Cabuyaban (285/27-2); and Park Hill’s Ethen Miller (145/23-1) and Kal Miller (152/27-0). Most of those are headed to college to wrestle. The Miller boys will wrestle at Maryland, Doolin is headed to Northern Colorado and Lenger will go to Augustana.

The field also features a defending state champion in Liberty’s Kyle Dutton (145/28-2), who beat Ethen Miller in the final last week by an injury default, and Liberty’s Taylor Hunter, who won the 106 title and is 30-0.

Oak Park’s Paul Hernandez will be a force at 170 pounds, sporting a 41-1 record. His only loss came against David Brooks of Staley, who dropped down to 160 and is 33-3. Oak Park has 10 sectional qualifiers. 

Class 3 Sectional 4

Two district tournaments that were dominated by a handful of teams will collide at the Class 3 Sectional 4 meet at Belton High School.

At the Class 3 District 7 meet, Grain Valley, Belton and Bolivar each had four champions — a combined 12 of 14 weight classes at a meet held in Grandview. Over at Kearney, Platte County, Fort Osage, Kearney and Smithville combined for all of the championships.

Grain Valley’s district champions included Gavin Parks (106), Tanner Barker (138), OT Frederick (182) and Hunter Newsom (195).

In the District 7 meet, three weight classes (182, 195, 220) had less than four wrestlers. Frederick won the three-wrestler class at 182 and won a district title and is 10-17 heading into sectionals.

Newsom is ranked No. 2 overall and will look to stay undefeated (12-0) and could run into Platte County’s Jaydon Walls, ranked No. 6. Newsom took third place at state last year.

Barker is ranked No. 3 and the only other ranked wrestler in his weight class was Grandview’s L.J. Davenport, who Barker beat to win the district title.

Fort Osage was in contention for the District 8 title until the 195-pound match and took second place. The Indians will have 12 qualifiers, tied for the second most at the sectional with Platte County. Bolivar had all 14 wrestlers move onto sectionals.

District champions for the Indians were Rylan Mansfield (113), Jeremiah Phillips (160) and Stevie Gabb (285). Mansfield (26-2) is ranked No. 5 and could run into Bolivar’s Canyon Cunningham, No. 6 overall, and a third-place finisher in Class 2 last year. Phillips (26-7) could see No. 4-ranked Luca Riley of Belton, who won a district title and is now 24-3.

Fort Osage heavyweight Stevie Gabb, top, looks for the signal from the official as he pins Van Horn's Mason Igou in the 285-pound finals of thes Class 3 District 8 tournament. Gabb was one of three champions for the Indians, who will send 12 wrestlers to Saturday's sectional round.

Gabb (35-4) had little trouble winning the heavyweight class as the three other qualifiers all had losing records. There are two quality wrestlers from the other district in Warrensburg’s Brandon Browmwell (21-3) and Grain Valley’s Donovan McBride (7-1). Browmwell won the district title with a pin over McBride.

“We've had the chance to actually work on some things that we saw we needed to work on from the district tournament,” Fort Osage coach Brandon Wackerman said. “Normally we wouldn't be breaking things down too much between districts and state, but it has been nice being able to fine-tune some things technically. We've been focusing on keeping good routines and just keeping mentally sharp. Wrestling the sectional in one day, just like wrestling the district in one day, and eventually the state tournament in one day. … It just means that you have to keep your mind focused on the plan from whistle to whistle. This is the time of year that mental lapses are very costly.”

William Chrisman will have six wrestlers there, while Van Horn will have four.

Grain Valley's Dru Azcona, left, hugs a coach after defeating Landon Kivett of Neosho 8-7 in his 113-pound fifth-place match at last year's Class 3 state tournament. Azcona, wrestling at 126 this year, hopes to earn a return trip to state with a top-three finish in Saturday's Class 3 Sectional 4 tournament at Belton High School.

This district is loaded with high-end talent who were medalists last year. That group includes Newsom and Cunningham, as mentioned before, as well as Grain Valley’s Dru Azcona (126), Kearney’s Eli Ashcroft (132), Garrett Deason (145), Ben Locke (152) and McBride, Belton’s Lane Cross (120), Smithville’s Kolby McClain (120), Bolivar’s Drayton Huchteman (220) and Platte County’s Eli Rocha (145).

Class 2 Sectional 4

Oak Grove ended districts with two champions and 11 total sectional qualifiers, which should give the Panthers a chance to be in the mix to send a lot to the state meet.

The Class 2 Sectional 4 meet will be held at Excelsior Springs High School.

The Panthers’ two district champions should have a chance to earn sectional titles. Carson Smith (152) is in a weight class in which the winner and runner-up from District 8 have 12 and 14 losses, respectively. Benton’s Bishop Rush claimed the district crown.

Zander Brinegar (31-0) will look to keep his undefeated season going after winning a close match last week in the 220 pounds finals, 3-2, against Boonville’s Peyton Hahn, who suffered his first loss of the season (24-1). It is possible those two will see each other again, but Cameron’s Wyatt Burnett (41-8) is coming off a district title.

The rest of Oak Grove’s qualifiers will be pitted against foes who have only a few losses throughout the season.

At 126 pounds, there could be an interesting matchup if the Panthers’ Kaden Scarborough (8-3) meets up with Excelsior Springs’ Landen Davis (24-2). Both were state medalists last year, with Scarborough, a district runner-up last week, taking fourth at 113 and Davis was the third-place finishing at 126.

The Panthers’ two other district runners-up will have state medalists in their respective weight classes from the other district. Holland Graves (160/9-9 overall) is in a weight class with Excelsior Springs’ Damon Ashworth, last year’s 152-pound champion. Ashworth is 14-2 this year. Oak Grove’s Caleb Groff (285) was a third-place finish at state last year but lost the district title last week to Kirksville’s Bryce Kertz (29-4). The champion from the other district is Cameron’s Camren Hedgpeth (42-3), a fifth-place finisher at 195 last year.

There are three wrestlers ranked No. 1 by MissouriWrestling.com — Excelsior Springs’ Ayden Dolt (145), Odessa’s Gavin Gross (160) and Hahn — but rankings were done prior to districts.

Class 1 Sectional 3

St. Michael is coming off the young school’s first district title but now will deal with some of the best teams in the state in the Class 1 Sectional 3 meet in Higginsville.

The Guardians had six district champions and a total of 12 wrestlers will compete Saturday at Lafayette County High School. Now, foes from District 6 will join in, headlined by district champion Richmond.

The other district also sports two teams that won state trophies last year — Lathrop (third) and Lawson (fourth).

St. Michael coach Matt Infranca said his team is ready for it.

“It was really fun to watch the team earn the first district title,” he said. “We knew we had an opportunity to win the team title if everyone did their job. At the same time, that wasn't the end goal and we had to get back to work. We have been talking about the opportunity they have. St. Michael has had one kid qualify for state. We haven't ever had more than one at the state tourney in the same year. We have a chance to have anywhere from two to nine. It's up to the wrestlers to figure out how many qualify and who those qualifiers will be.

“But if they wrestle like they are capable of wrestling, five, six or seven qualifiers is very realistic. And if we steal a few that I feel we can, we could get eight or nine through. So really focusing on the opportunity to qualify multiple kids, bringing home medals and hopefully a champion or two. We continue to lay the foundation of what the expectations of this program are going forward while continuing to build the culture we started back in October.”

Lucas Barry (106), David Maschger (113), Drew Stanfield (126), Ellis Edwards (152), Jackson Wimberly (182) and Caleb Berry (220) were all district champions for St. Michael.

Stanfield is ranked No. 2, while Barry (35-1) is ranked No. 3. Barry and Maschger were in weight classes with no other wrestlers at district so they didn’t have to actually wrestle at all to advance.

Stanfield will take his perfect record (35-0) into sectional and should have a chance to move onto state as three of the four qualifiers from the other district have losing records.

Wimberly (182) could get a challenge from Carrollton’s Noah Franks (27-4), a district champion.

Berry won three matches at districts — two by pins — to improve to 15-4. That performance came after he returned from a broken hand — his first competition since the middle of December.

There were only two wrestlers ranked from either district as No. 1 in their respective weight class heading into districts: Lawson’s Tyler Leonard at 145 and Lathrop’s Dorian Walters at 220. Walters, last year’s 195-pound state champion, didn’t compete in districts. Leonard is 24-0 after a district title and won a state title last year at 138.

Infranca has been juggling the long layoff — the district tournaments were held on Saturday, Feb. 13 — by working on techniques with the whole team and then individually focused drills. But he has also tried to keep the mood loose – playing dodgeball during one practice.

“It's a different feel,” he said. “It's a tougher tourney. The top three advance so there is less room for error. But it doesn't feel like we are preparing for state. It's different for sure. It's challenging. With the extension of the season, you just have to make sure the team is fresh, healthy and ready to go. If you overtrain, they will go into Saturday tired.”