Beau Moreland is in his second season as the head wrestling coach at St. James and now he's got his first tournament win under his belt. The Tigers made the trip to Park Hills Central for their tournament on Saturday, Jan. 7 and used five first place finishes to walk away on top.
"It's good, especially considering it was a tournament they'd won two years ago," said coach Moreland. "I was really wanting this one, because I knew that the guys that were here two years ago were good athletes, but it was also the guys I have now when they were freshmen. So I wanted to make sure they could get that self-acknowledgement of doing it again as upperclassmen."
St. James had seven wrestlers in first place matches. Their first win came from Garrick Lonning at 126. He and Ty Lewis both wrestled at 126 for St. James, with Lewis taking the JV slot. Lewis was hoping to wrestle at 120, but just missed out on making weight, so he was forced to wrestle at 126. Lonning and Lewis faced off against each other in their first match with Lonning getting a first round pin. They both went their separate ways after the match, but each swept their way through the rest of the day. Lonning won three more matches to advance into the first place match against Potosi's Jacob Lands, where he got his third pin of the day to take home the championship at 126. Lewis did extremely well for himself after losing to Lonning, earning three pins and a forfeit to finish in third.
"One big one was our 126, Derrick Lonning. He's been working down from the 30s down to 126. That was his first full varsity event and he finished in first," said coach Moreland of his 126s. "Ty is one of those guys that's got a ton of potential. I've told him...he'll fight every time. It's his third year wrestling this year and he just keeps getting better and better."
After that, two of the St. James regulars continued to crush it. Mikey Crocker had a clean sweep at 132. He pinned his way into the championship, where he faced off against Hancock's Ashton Wynn. Crocker didn't get a pin in the championship, he did win by major decision 15-5. Right after Crocker was Thomas Henderson at 138. Henderson didn't pin his way to the championship, but did earn three pins and a tech fall to earn a championship bid. He faced Park Hills Central's Noah Turner-House where he won with a 6-2 decision to finish in first. Devin Webster also wrestled at 138 for St. James and finished ninth.
A few of the heavier weight had some of St. James' top finishes of the day. Nick Wilson pinned his way into the championship at 170. Wilson faced Reiss Groves from Cape Girardeau Central in the championship and won a great match 6-3. Cort and Cole Petty both did well at 182 and 195, respectively. Cort had pins in his first three matches, but was pinned by Potosi's Ben Turnbough in the semi-final. That loss sent him to the third place match, where he beat Park Hills Central's Aaron Dooley 4-2 to finish third. Cole had three pins and a bye to wrestle into the championship, where he faced off against Festus' Tyler Sexton. Cole had a hard fought match, but fell just short in points. He lost 7-3 to finish in second place. The fifth and final win came at 220 with Drake Ortiz. Ortiz was dominant on the day, earning a pin in every match on the day and capping the night off with a pin of Potosi's Logan Kirby in the championship. Only one opponent made it out of the first round against him in the tournament.
"(Cole) wrestled up a weight on this one. He wrestled 182 at Kinloch and he did well at Kinloch at 182 and his brother filled in at 195. His younger brother does a lot better at 182 than 195, so point-wise, we knew we were going to score better with Cole wrestling the guys at 195 because he's had more experience, so he can make up for the weight difference," said coach Moreland. "His brother has experience, but not as much, so (Cole) was able to win more at 195 than his brother could've."
There was one more Tiger to wrestle in a championship and that was Logan Saxbury at 113. Saxbury had two pins and a bye in his first three rounds and a phenomenal 9-7 win over Tyler Sikes of Cape Girardeau Central sent him to the championship. Unfortunately, Tristin Benson was too much to handle and he was tech falled 16-1 in the second period.
Another surprise for St. James came at 106. Kaylynn Crocker had a great day as St. James' lightest competitor. After losing her first match to Sullivan's Brendan Labbee, she had two first period pins and a bye to advance to the third place match. She lost to Cameron Bevens of Cape Girardeau Central, but the fourth place finish was her highest of the season.
"She was up there wrestling for fourth and it's crazy how much better she's gotten," said Moreland. "Mikey, her older brother, having him on the team with her is great because before a match, they go off and they're actually warming up together and he's giving her tips and she listens. She goes out there and she does it and it's paying off. It's one of those, where a wins a win and a loss is a loss, but whenever you see a freshman female in this sport succeed, it's nice. I try not to look at them differently than any of the other guys, but it's nice."
Other noteworthy finishes for St. James were a fifth place finish by David Deluca at 160 and a sixth place finish by Daniel Brown. The Tigers ran away with the tournament, earning 320.5 team points. Sullivan came in second with 254.5.
"We strongly believe that everything until Districts is practice," said coach Moreland. "That's why we shoot for the hard tournaments...some of these guys look at it as we're gonna go up there and get our butts kicked. We work on their confidence and tell them they aren't going to get their butts kicked, it's just another guy at your weight class that has a little more experience. That's what we're working on here. We take all of those as high level practice, so whenever you get out there and you wrestle tough match after tough match after tough match and you come back and you wrestle Park Hills Central and you've got your Potosi and Festus and Sullivan, where these guys are good wrestlers, but you've been out there with Rolla and Hillcrest and all these guys at Kinloch and you're just that much more prepared. We're hoping with all of that, the confidence builds over the season, it gets easier for them, they can continue to improve and we go out there in Districts and it's not even as hard as three of our tournaments have been."
One of the biggest things for St. James as the season progresses is that it's not just their top wrestlers that are finding success. They're starting to fill in around them as a team and that bodes well as they build this program and look for more wins.
"You always here it a lot in basketball, that you get a guy talking about his team and stuff like that and they always talk about you have your Lebrons and your Kobes and stuff like that, but when you get into a championship and big games like that, they're always looking for the other guys. The guys coming off the bench, the other three or four guys on the court that they step up. That's the difference between finishing second and first," said Moreland. "As a team in wrestling, it's that way too. You're finding your guys that go to State and place at State, but when you're doing team duals and guys that come between those weight classes are the ones that end up winning you those duals a lot of times. If Tyler Teague goes out and has a big day, that's a match that Mikey or Thomas or Drake or Cole or one of those guys, they don't necessarily have as much weight on their shoulders. If they have a bad match, Tyler's got their back or Kaylynn's got their back. If you're walking out there thinking 'if I don't pin this guy we lose as a team,' that's a lot of pressure on these guys when they just need to focus on their match. It's nice to start seeing these new guys step up and all the practices start to pay off."
Coach Moreland likes his team to stay busy and they will again this week. They have three matches this week, starting with a quad at MICDS on Tuesday, Jan. 10. They'll also go to Principia on Thursday and the Owensville Invitational on Saturday.