By Todd Gurnow (with a lot of help from the Hawks)
Well, this is the fun part. The Missouri High School Wrestling Championships are over. It has been a major part of my life since Thursday, even though I spent only one day there (Friday). I could only attend one day, and when I asked Head Coach Matt Mitchell which day would be best, he didn’t hesitate in recommending Friday. He told me it would be a do-or-die day, where kids would either advance to big things or see their seasons come to a close. He was right. It was an unbelievable day that lasted from 5 a.m. when I left Festus until I returned at around 11 p.m. And I was shot…I can’t imagine how these kids dealt with the pressure and intensity for three days straight. I took over 2500 photos. I didn’t catch everything, but I sure hope I captured a lot of what happened on the mat and off. I hope those pictures will allow everyone to hold on to memories of that day.
Thursday and Saturday I tried to keep everyone updated in real time of what was happening in Columbia. Then I tried to gather as much information from coaches and kids that were so tired and trying to recoup before they had to head back to school on Monday. But as always, I was met with graciousness and accommodation. That’s why I can write stories like this one.
And this is the real joy of what I do. Wrestling notoriously gets “undercovered”. There are a lot of reasons, but Ameritime Sports allows me to cover it on a daily basis. I get to know the kids, the coaches, and everything that goes into the sport. It’s not for the weak of heart. But I’ve never found more appreciative folks than within the wrestling community. I’m a fan. I covered wrestling at the University of Michigan in 1886-87, and also at Central Missouri State (now UCM) from 1987-1990. I was familiar with the sport, but not like now. I still don’t know all the ins-and-outs, but I’ve gotten to know the people. I’m a better person because of it.
So let’s recap the state tournament for the Hawks. I’m going to stop “talking” now and let Coach Mitchell and the athletes give you their thoughts. I’m just going to be the organizer. Here we go…
According to Coach Mitchell:
- This was the team’s second top 10 team finish in program history. (kind of a big deal in wrestling…we took 10th)
- Gavin Alexander was their second state champ in wrestling in school history, which covers 26 years. The first state champ was Jake Vonderbruegge in 2008. That year was the same year as our other top 10 finish when the team took eighth.
- Gavin Alecander would be the first state placer and state champion as a freshman ever in Hillsboro history.
- Griffin Ray would become the second freshman to ever place at state for Hillsboro with his win against Belton.
- With James Short going two and out of the tournament, that means all of the points Hillsboro scored as a team this year will return next year.
- This Thursday at the school board meeting, the state qualifiers and placers will be honored at 7 p.m.
- This Friday, the high school is having an assembly to recognize Gavin’s state championship and the 10th place team finish.
Coach Mitchell’s general comments: “It’s hard for me to put into words the ups and downs of the weekend. We set out at the beginning of the year to be a top 10 state team, and we accomplished that. I’m proud of the boys. They worked hard all year and deserve it. It was a huge weekend for our program. This won’t be our peaking point though, we will only get better from here. It’s an exciting time to be part of our program.”
Gavin Alexander (46-2) placed 1st and scored 24.5 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Gavin Alexander (Hillsboro) 46-2 won by major decision over Ashton Atkins (Ft. Zumwalt South) 30-16 (MD 10-2)
Quarterfinal – Gavin Alexander (Hillsboro) 46-2 won by tech fall over Carter Prenger (Helias Catholic) 35-10 (TF-1.5 5:24 (19-3))
Semifinal – Gavin Alexander (Hillsboro) 46-2 won by decision over Lane Cross (Belton ) 31-14 (Dec 4-0)
1st Place Match – Gavin Alexander (Hillsboro) 46-2 won by decision over Raymond Hembree (Neosho) 43-15 (Dec 9-5)
Coach Mitchell: “Gavin put together a great tournament. He is a hard working kid, and I’m happy for what he accomplished for himself, his family, and the Hillsboro wrestling program. He kind of had all different types of matches all weekend. He definitely had some nerves in every match. I know his first match, he was really tired because I think he was too nervous. After that, he settled in a little bit. I know in his second match he won by technical fall, but that was a really good kid. He had a big move, and we thought we could get caught at anytime, and Gavin wrestled through all of those positions really well. In Gavin’s semi, he controlled the whole match and came up with a huge takedown in the third period to lock up the win.”
“The finals match was actually a re-match. That Neosho kid was one of Gavin’s two losses this year. That was a huge mental edge for us, I think. Gavin was winning that match earlier in the year and got caught in a cradle and pinned. Gavin knew he made a mistake. So, going into the finals, we knew if we wrestled hard for six minutes, and didn’t make any mistakes, we would be in a good position to win. I think the other kid knew in the back of his head that we out-wrestled him the first time, and just got caught. Sure enough, Gavin was able to out-wrestle that kid in the third period. It was definitely a dramatic moment. I don’t really know how else to explain it.
Gavin: “It has definitely sunk in that, dang, I’m a state champ..like wow! I know I’ve got a target on my back now, so all I can do is grind in the off season, and see how I do. Oh my…state was exiting and intimidating. I have never had such a feeling before…it was awesome. Being on such a big stage, I blocked it out by, honestly, telling myself I’m the baddest guy. I realized I had a shot at the title at the beginning of the year. All my coaches have let me know that I had a shot all year, so I had it in my head I was going to be a champ. In the three days, I had no doubts I was going to win it. I knew I was going to win it.”
Aidan Haggard (37-13) scored 3.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Cooper Rider (Smithville) 17-17 won by decision over Aidan Haggard (Hillsboro) 37-13 (Dec 8-5)
Cons. Round 1 – Aidan Haggard (Hillsboro) 37-13 won by fall over Arion Ivy (Parkway West) 26-16 (Fall 4:02)
Cons. Round 2 – Antonio Rizzi (Belton ) 36-12 won in sudden victory – 1 over Aidan Haggard (Hillsboro) 37-13 (SV-1 7-5)
Aidan: “The last three days have been a good learning experience. Although I didn’t achieve my goals, I did get to see my teammates do great things. My last match was disappointing, but it just shows that I need to get back in the practice room and prepare for next year.”
Zach McNees (41-10) scored 3.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Zach McNees (Hillsboro) 41-10 won by major decision over Jackson Ward (Liberty (Wentzville)) 40-10 (MD 13-5)
Quarterfinal – Hunter Newsom (Grain Valley) 40-6 won by major decision over Zach McNees (Hillsboro) 41-10 (MD 14-0)
Cons. Round 2 – Mason Walters (William Chrisman) 23-9 won by decision over Zach McNees (Hillsboro) 41-10 (Dec 5-1)
Zach: Well, I don’t want to call the season a disappointment, but I set goals for myself that I did not achieve. I came up short, and I’m going to try to make the best of things and learn from my failures. I’m extremely thankful for all my coaches and teammates for helping me through the season. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to even compete at the biggest stage. I love the sport of wrestling, and I will continue to pursue my goals.”
Coach Mitchell: Zach and Aidan both lost in the round of 12. I’m proud of them. Those guys don’t have the youth experience that some of our other wrestlers have. They have worked so hard the last three years to get to the point they are now. They will continue to get better. I know they are upset with how the weekend ended, but they both had some outstanding matches. Aidan had an exciting overtime match, and Zach beat a really good kid from Wentzville Liberty. They will both be back next year, and we are excited for them to be seniors and lead our squad next year.”
Evan Morris (40-11) scored 5.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Jack Lage (Helias Catholic) 44-3 won by fall over Evan Morris (Hillsboro) 40-11 (Fall 3:26)
Cons. Round 1 – Evan Morris (Hillsboro) 40-11 won by major decision over Richard Kim (Ft. Zumwalt South) 13-18 (MD 8-0)
Cons. Round 2 – Evan Morris (Hillsboro) 40-11 won by fall over Braden Stark (Ft. Zumwalt East) 23-8 (Fall 2:29)
Cons. Round 3 – Jt O`rourke (Smithville) 32-15 won by decision over Evan Morris (Hillsboro) 40-11 (Dec 8-3)
Coach Mitchell: “Evan Morris again flew under the radar at the state tournament. He went 2-2 and finished his season in the round of eight. That’s pretty solid for a freshman at 120 pounds. His bracket was loaded with state placers and upperclassmen. Evan finished the year with 40 wins as a freshman…that is a great accomplishment for him. He was a hard worker all year, and sometimes teams forget about him. I think after this past weekend, he is on everyone’s radar now.”
Evan: “It was a little nerve-racking on the state floor, but my team and my coaches helped us get ready for our matches. They also helped by lifting us up when we lost. On a personal note, I have noticed that I am very blessed to be on such a good team with good teammates, but for the future, I see us getting fifth at state next yea,r and I want to be in the state finals.”
James Short (40-9)
Champ. Round 1 – Christian Cartright (Branson ) 33-9 won by fall over James Short (Hillsboro) 40-9 (Fall 3:57)
Cons. Round 1 – Dakota Lowe (Grandview) 39-12 won by disqualification over James Short (Hillsboro) 40-9 (DQ)
Coach Mitchell: My heart breaks for James. He got caught up in an illegal slam call. When something like that happens, you want to argue the call, but we knew it was the right call. He knew right away when it happened that it was a mistake. There was nothing we could do. It stinks for him, but he can be proud of being our leader this year. He also had an outstanding career… four-time state qualifier, state medalist as a junior, and just an outstanding asset to our program. He was one of the greats, and will be remembered that way. I wish James all the success in college, and as he grows up. He knows he is always welcome back to our program. He helped build this thing, and it means a lot.”
James: “It was a surreal experience to be on the state floor knowing it was my last time there, and that’s part of why I was so heartbroken after I had gotten disqualified. Otherwise, our season was great. We met our team goals from the beginning, and all the boys and girls of our team were very successful. In the future, I’m not sure as to where and how, but I will continue wrestling.”
Dalton Litzsinger (47-4) placed 3rd and scored 21.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Dalton Litzsinger (Hillsboro) 47-4 won by fall over Hayden Dearborn (Lebanon) 22-14 (Fall 2:48)
Quarterfinal – Dalton Litzsinger (Hillsboro) 47-4 won by fall over Andrew Hedgecorth (Smithville) 18-13 (Fall 1:53)
Semifinal – Oscar Ortiz (McDonald County) 46-7 won by decision over Dalton Litzsinger (Hillsboro) 47-4 (Dec 4-1)
Cons. Semi – Dalton Litzsinger (Hillsboro) 47-4 won by injury default over Eli Rocha (Platte County) 37-7 (Inj. 0:00)
3rd Place Match – Dalton Litzsinger (Hillsboro) 47-4 won by major decision over Blake Cook (Farmington) 32-20 (MD 12-0)
Coach Mitchell: “Dalton was all business this weekend. He took care of his first two opponents with ease. We thought we could win his semi, but he came up just short. That hurt. He wanted to be in the finals so bad. It will be a motivator for him next year. Dalton has put more time in the wrestling room than anyone on our team, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. The coaches notice, the kids notice, everyone notices. Third at state is a huge deal, but I know he wants more. That’s what makes him our leader. The best thing was, Dalton rebounded and took third. Wrestling back like that was huge for the team. Dalton will continue to be one of our leaders next year. He works so hard year-round. He deserved that medal more than anyone, and I was really happy for him.”
Dalton: “It was another amazing journey, and I’m very excited to have made the trip again. You can never know what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out. Third place just leaves me with some motivation to go get more and more.”
Griffin Ray (46-5) placed 5th and scored 11.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 – Griffin Ray (Hillsboro) 46-5 won by decision over Dathan Mickem (Rolla) 35-9 (Dec 4-1)
Quarterfinal – Griffin Ray (Hillsboro) 46-5 won by fall over Luca Riley (Belton ) 35-14 (Fall 5:52)
Semifinal – Alexsey Salaz (Helias Catholic) 40-5 won by decision over Griffin Ray (Hillsboro) 46-5 (Dec 5-3)
Cons. Semi – Dathan Mickem (Rolla) 35-9 won by decision over Griffin Ray (Hillsboro) 46-5 (Dec 3-2)
5th Place Match – Griffin Ray (Hillsboro) 46-5 won by decision over Ben Locke (Kearney) 31-18 (Dec 5-0)
Coach Mitchell: “Griffin Ray had a great weekend for us. I think if you go through the brackets, you won’t find many freshmen across the state that get a medal at the state championships at a weight class like 138. Griffin had our most exciting match of the weekend when he beat the Belton kid with about eight seconds left. Griffin is just a kid that battles. He doesn’t back down to anyone. A lot of people don’t realize how much mat time he has put in over the years. He deserves it. Fifth place as a freshman will turn some heads. I’m glad he is on my team. He has a niche for winning some dramatic matches, and I’m proud of the year he has had. I know he is looking to be even better next year. He will be putting in a lot of work this offseason.”
Griffin: “Honestly, it felt amazing to be there! I would say I adapted to the environment fairly quickly, and I had lots of fun and wrestled well all weekend. The season has had its ups and some downs, but man, was it a blast. Coming into state, I was a little nervous, but my coaches got me prepared very quickly. Also James, Aidan, and Dalton have all been there before, and they were very helpful to me with helping me calm down the nerves. They let me know all week what I am capable of. I would say this season was a success, but I fell a little short of the goal. But now it’s just time to get back on the mats and progress to a state title next year.”
Coach Mitchell in conclusion: “I think our team is happy, but not satisfied with our results. I think we only grow from here, but there’s no doubt that this was a huge step for our program. We already have kids setting goals for next year. We will have a big offseason, and I’m excited to watch this group grow together.”
Personally, I would like to thank Coach Mitchell for being so diligent. He has had information at my fingertips and made my job so easy. It makes me want to go the extra mile for these kids because I know how important they are to him. And those athletes…boys and girls…they are the best. They’re just good, down-to-earth young men and women. I appreciate their thank you texts and messages, as well as the concern they showed at my mother’s passing. I’m very fortunate, and honored, to work with and for them.
Congratulations Hawks…can’t wait until next year.