The Rolla wrestling team made the trip up to Camdenton for the Class 3 District 3 Tournament on Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11. The Bulldogs had four wrestlers vying for District Championships and ended the tournament with five players earning a spot in the State Tournament.
Zach Fennell was the first State Qualifier for Rolla at 120. The freshman now has a record of 42-6 after a strong weekend. Fennell started the weekend with a pin of Webb City's Jamie Black in the second period. He followed that with a 6-2 decision over Willard's Jed Brandon. Fennell had his sole loss of the weekend in the semifinal with a tough 4-0 loss to Carthage's Dalen Moore. Moore went on to win the District at 120. The loss sent him to the consolation bracket for a chance at third place. Fennell was pushed to the brink against Republic's Jonathan O'Connell, but a takedown in overtime gave him a 4-2 win and an automatic bid to State. Fennell would go on to finish in third after a forfeit by Helias' Randy Salaz. While he did qualify for State, the freshman still had higher hopes for the weekend.
"I mean, I'm not really satisfied with it, because I would've rather been in the finals," said Fennell. "But it feels good."
Those high expectations will carry over into the State tournament.
"One of my main goals is to beat kids who have beaten me this year," said Fennell. "Losses today like in the semis to Dalen Moore, I wanna get some revenge on that, and a kid named Noah Patton from Pacific. I mean, (I wanna beat) anybody, mainly the kids I lost to, those are the kids I'm really coming for."
Next up for Rolla was one of their top dogs, Tristan Barr, at 126. The senior has just one loss on the season with a 46-1 record. He started off with an easy run in his first couple of matches. Barr's first match was a pin of Parkview's DJ Willoughby, followed by a 46 second pin of Camdenton's Reese Negri. Tyler Church from Carl Junction put up a fight, but Barr was able to get his third pin of the weekend in the third period to advance to the tournament championship. The senior faced off against Neosho's Trenton Young in the final for a phenomenal District Championship. Barr earned the first point of the match with an escape to open the second period. He was nearly able to finish off the match for a 1-0 win, but Young earned a point of his own at the end of the third to force overtime. Barr was able to get a takedown quickly in the overtime, however, to take home the District crown. He said that Young earning a late point to force overtime was a good lesson for him to learn.
"He's a tough tough kid. I mean, he's ranked number three and I'm ranked number two currently...he's one of the handful of kids that has given me a tough match this season," said Barr. "I could've opened the gap a little bit more and scored some more points, but I played it safe. Playing it safe probably isn't good all the time."
Barr earned his first loss of the season at the Ozark Tournament a week ago and he took some lessons away from that as well, which should play a role in his run for a State Championship.
"I've gotta take one match at a time and one round at a time," said Barr. "It was really beat into my head this year that anybody can be beat. It's obvious, but if you just take it one round at a time and go from there, you're gonna have a high chance of being a success story."
Coleman Brainard was the next State Qualifier for Rolla at 138. Brainard, who now holds a record of 44-4 on the season, rolled through the first few rounds with similar success. He started with a first period pin of Branson's James Miller and followed it up with a tech fall win over Marshfield's Patrick Wilson 18-1. A first period pin of Willard's Tallon Heimbach sent Brainard into the championship against Neosho's Braxton Barnes. Brainard put up a great fight and forced overtime, but Barnes was able to get the takedown and pin in overtime to take the District Championship.
The next State Qualifier for Rolla was Gage Maxwell at 152. The senior has a record of 25-3 and dominated all weekend long. Maxwell started with a first period pin of Carl Junction's Jesse Kennedy. He followed that up with a pin of Neosho's Sam Sam Townsend at the end of the second period. The senior went on to pin Branson's Hunter Holderfield in the second period to advance to the District Championship. Maxwell went on to forfeit the District Championship, as he had already qualified for State and is still nursing a bit of a rib injury.
"It feels great," said Maxwell of qualifying for State again. "It's always great to go to State and know that I'm going to be able to compete with the best and maybe even take it all."
For Maxwell, his past experience at the State Tournament has taught him to be aggressive out of the gate.
"Just go out there looking for the kill," said Maxwell. "Go out there to pin them and get the match over with as quickly as possible."
The final State Qualifier for Rolla was another senior in Seth Veatch. Veatch goes into State with a record of 26-2 after starting the season with an injury. He had a bye in the first round of the District Tournament and followed that with a 22 second pin of McDonald's Timber Bowers. He then pinned Morgan Earl from Willard in the semi-final to advance to the championship against Neosho's Joey Williams, the tournament's top seed. After a trading points early, Veatch struggled to escape from William's grasp and fell in the championship 6-2.
Rolla also had several wrestlers on the brink of qualifying. Bryce O'Connor ended up falling just one win shy of qualifying at 160 on two separate occasions. After two pins to open things up, he lost a high scoring match to Branson's Isaiah Wittmer in the semifinal 12-7. The sophomore then needed one win in the consolation bracket to qualify, but he was pinned by McDonald's Truman Craig.
Senior Xaviar Douglas was also on the brink of qualifying at 195. After losing his only match on Friday, Douglas dominated the consolation bracket early on Saturday. The first year wrestler started by pinning Hillcrest's Tyler Tindle, before pinning Branson's Cameron Bunting in just 44 seconds. He ran into a road block in Carthage's Brycen Cartwright, losing the match 14-7 to fall one win shy of qualifying.
Alton Heyer also fell a win shy of qualifying for Rolla. After losing in the first round to Hillcrest's Blake Schmidt in the first round, Heyer had a strong run in wrestlebacks. He started by winning a grind it out match against Willard's Martin Eidson when he was able to roll Eidson into a pin. He then faced off against Helias' Cole Czarmecki. The senior fell over at the beginning of the match, but Czarmecki overcommitted when trying to pin Heyer after the fall. Heyer ended up getting the pin in just 30 seconds, despite falling to open the match. He needed to take down McDonald's Bronnie Kinser to qualify for State, but he was pinned midway through the third period to fall a match shy of State.
Rolla finished fourth in the tournament as a team with 134.5 points behind Carthage (143.5), Willard (168.5) and the team champion Neosho (251.5). Overall, Rolla had a positive weekend, despite some of those State Qualifiers ending their tournament on a sour note.
"We got kids to State...and the kids that are going obviously competed at a high level," said head coach Marty Hauck. "This is a tough tournament, we've got the number one team in the State a returning State Championship team in our District (Neosho), so you're fighing for three spots for the most part, but our kids fought hard all weekend. I'm proud of the kids, but obviously I want more next weekend."
This was also an important weekend for some of the kids that didn't qualify. Rolla brought a lot of youth to this tournament with five freshman and a sophomore. They were able to get one of those wrestlers to State, but those young wrestlers were able to get a taste of just how difficult things get in Districts, which will help them later in their careers.
"It's great, we've got a bright future ahead of us, there's no doubt about that," said Hauck. "This team just keeps building momentum and momentum and I think if we do something well at State like I think we can, then we keep raising the bar higher and higher for those kids and those kids are a part of that."
While not all of the State Qualifiers reached their District goals, coach Hauck thinks that will be another driving factor for them to succeed at State.
"They're very excited, obviously, about going to State again, but they're very frustrated with their finish and their placement," said Hauck. "They know what they gotta do, they know that (the second place finishers are) gonna get the three seeds coming out of the other District and we're gonna have to wrestle against a good, solid opponent to start out tournament off."
Coach Hauck is also glad to have a lot of experienced State wrestlers going to the State Tournament to help along their freshman as he gets used to the environment of the tournament.
"It's a good thing for us to have that many kids that have been there before," said coach Hauck. "Zach medaled last year at State at kids club, but it's a little bit different going from kids club to high school, so now he's trying to earn that podium spot at the high school level and having these kids next to him who have been there and done that, both at the youth level and obviously the high school level, they're gonna help him with that transition and it's a great thing for our team."
Those five Bulldogs will head up to Columbia for the State Tournament at Mizzou Arena, which kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 16. and goes through Saturday, Feb. 18.