The Rolla wrestling team braved the weather to travel to Carthage for Districts on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 9-10. The Bulldogs finished third as a team in the District and will send five to State with three first place finishes, a second place finish and one in third.
Anthony Sederburg (46-1) was the first to take home gold for the Bulldogs at 106. The sophomore pinned his way through the first three rounds to earn a spot in the championship against Neosho's Cayden Auch. The match came down to the wire, but Sederburg was able to hold on to win 5-4 to take home first place.
"It feels great," said Sederburg of qualifying for State after missing Districts last season with an injury. "Coming off of last year, I was bummed, but I came out this year and I knew I was going to do good.
Head coach Marty Hauck has loved what he's seen out of Sederburg coming back from his injury last season.
"He's got one loss on the season and it's to the kid that we beat in the finals here and he only lost it by two," said the Rolla head coach. "It's great to see. He continues to grow in the sport, he's continuing to learn and he's smiling more than he has in a while and that's awesome to see."
Nate Pulliam (46-0) was up next at 113. The freshman came in with a perfect record and he didn't go home without it. After tech falls in his first two matches, Pulliam won 7-0 against Neosho's Kolton Sanders to earn a spot in the final. Pulliam faced Oscar Ortiz from McDonald County for first place, winning 2-0. Pulliam allowed just one point over the span of four matches. Pulliam was lucky enough to see a lot of these wrestlers earlier in the season and came away with wins, so he knew what to expect for the most part in his first trip to Districts.
"I've wrestled most of these kids before, besides my semifinals match, so I kinda knew what I was going into already," said the undefeated freshman. "I was just going out there confident and making sure I didn't make any mistakes."
Coach Hauck continues to be impressed by what he sees in his freshman at 113.
"We're at that point in time where the heart and the gut get checked quite a bit," said coach Hauck. "They're still not scoring on him."
The final championship came from Coleman Brainard (44-4) at 138. The senior captain had won by tech fall in his first match, before a pin in his second match. Brainard had a pair of tough matches to finish off his District run. First he outlasted Willard's Tallon Heimbach 1-0 to earn a spot against Neosho's Braxton Barnes. The championship was a rematch of last year's District Championship, which Barnes won in overtime. Brainard nearly had the win in regulation, as a third period reversal gave the senior a 2-1 lead. Barnes was able to get a last second escape to force overtime, but Brainard wouldn't let the late tie take the wind out of his sails. The Rolla captain didn't waste much time, getting a take down in the first overtime to seal a District Championship.
"It was an awesome match. We both wrestled very hard and this year I came out on top. Hopefully I can build off of it going into the State Tournament," said Brainard after his championship win. "My mindset (in overtime) was that I still needed to get the takedown. Yes, that happened and I just shook it off and focused on overtime to get the final takedown."
Coach Hauck was glad to see Brainard get a little revenge on Barnes on his way to a District Championship, because that match was a couple of years in the making.
"We've been working on that for two years and I can't count the hours of film that we've studied," said coach Hauck. "To see him stick to the plan and stick to the process that he's been doing all his life. We get into a great situation that we want to be in and we come out on top. It's great for him and it's a tribute to his character and his wrestling over his career."
Brainard is bringing a group of three District Champions and it could've been four if not for an injury at 126 and he's looking forward to the success that the five Bulldog qualifiers will have at State.
"We're all excited to be District Champs and we're all looking at it the same way. This is just a stepping stone," said Brainard. "All five of our goals, including Justin, is to win it. That's what we want to do...we wanna be first. We wanna be in the final match on the final day. We want it all and I think if we go out there and wrestle, we'll have a good shot at doing it."
One of the grittiest matches of the weekend came from Zach Fennell (33-2) at 126. The Rolla sophomore cruised through the first two rounds with a first period pin and a 16-0 tech fall win. That set up a semifinal against Helias' Randy Salaz for a spot in the championship and a guaranteed trip to State. Salaz took an early 1-0, but that wasn't Fennell's biggest problem in the match. Rolla's 126 was nearly down for the count with an ankle injury, but he wasn't ready to back down. With a trip to State on the line, the sophomore fought through the rest of the match and was able to get two points to win the match. After some debate, Rolla elected to forfeit the championship match to preserve his ankle, but Fennell is headed to State with a second place finish. When the Rolla sophomore went down with that injury, he only had one thing on his mind: making it to State.
"I knew I needed to win the match to go to State, because I didn't know if I'd be able to wrestle again after that match," said Fennell of his semifinal. "I thought coach was going to pull me, but he told me I could do it, so I did."
Coach Hauck was impressed by the toughness that Fennell showed to win his final match of the weekend after his injury.
"His mental and physical toughness is through the roof," said the Rolla head coach. "He's a great kid, he works extremely hard, his offseason is spot on and he's a champion that didn't get a chance to wrestle a championship match. It's unfortunate for him, but at that same point in time, we want that State medal, we want that State title."
The final qualifier was Justin Briggs (34-12) at heavyweight. Briggs opened the tournament with a pair of pins, before getting pinned in the semifinal by Carl Junction's Zeke Wall. That loss sent Briggs to the wrestlebacks, where he needed to win one match to earn a trip to State. The final round of wrestlebacks hadn't gone well for Rolla up to that point, as they had lost four straight matches and Briggs nearly joined them. Things were looking a bit messy for the Rolla heavy in the second period, as he was stuck on his back, but he was able to get a reversal and a pin to earn a spot in the third place match and officially qualify for State. Briggs then went to beat Carthage's Brener Ocana 3-1 to finish in third. When Briggs was on his back on the brink of being pinned and falling short of State, he was just focused on making the comeback for his teammates.
"I'm just thinking that I have to do this for my team," said Briggs. "I have to make it to State...(it feels) really good."
While Briggs may not have been in the championship match like the other four Rolla qualifiers, coach Hauck thinks teams shouldn't sleep on the Bulldog heavy.
"He's got a great shot to be a dark horse and come through this. I look for a State medal from him as well," said Hauck. "He's a sophomore and to get here, he's right on schedule. It's great to see. He's another one that continues to grow. Last year he had half as many matches as he did at the varsity level and this year, we're going to State."
Rolla had four other wrestlers fall one match short of qualifying, but they needed one more win in the wrestlebacks. Dathan Mickem (33-12) made a great run at 132, but fell just shy of that final spot. His best match came in the third round of the consolation bracket, where he was on the verge of a victory in regulation, but was reversed by Ryder Heimbach at the buzzer, which tied the match. One overtime wasn't enough to decide a winner, but Mickem got a pin in the second overtime to get to the consolation semi. He lost that final match 9-2 to Holden Hughes from Carl Junction.
Jacob Phillips (16-29) also fell one match short of qualifying after fighting his way back through the wrestlebacks at 170. Phillips lost his first match of the weekend, but went on a great streak to get to the consolation semi, where he was pinned by Timber Teague from McDonald County.
Colton Franks (28-21) won his first two matches of the weekend with a pin and a 2-0 win over Helias' Noah Wieberg. Franks lost his semifinal match 5-0 to Jesse Cassatt of Carl Junction, before losing his consolation semi to Republic's Tyler Dawson, who pinned Rolla's 195 pounder in the third period.
Jacob Dobkins (29-20) opened the weekend with a bye at 220, before a pin in the quarterfinal. Dobkins lost 3-1 in the tournament semi, before a heartbreaking final match with Chris Perez from Carthage. The third period ended in a 1-1 tie, as did the first overtime. Perez went on to win the tiebreaker with an escape to keep Dobkins a match shy of qualifying for State.
Rolla tallied 147 points over the two day tournament and finished in third place. Neosho took the top spot at the District, while Carthage finished in second with 157.5. Helias and Marshfield rounded out the top five.
Coach Hauck always sets the highest goals for his team, but that doesn't mean he's disappointed in a third place finish in one of the toughest Districts in the State.
"This District is obviously very solid, it is every year. We were in first for a while, then we got into second and as a team, we had one rough round, where the momentum didn't go our way," said coach Hauck. "That's where you see the team side of this sport is in that momentum."
While they fell short of the team title at Districts, coach Hauck thinks they can still make a run at a team championship at State.
"We're taking the Oak Grove mentality so to say. Oak Grove took third in their District last year and they were State Champions," said the Rolla head coach. "That's what we're hopefully going to go do in a week."
The State tournament kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 15.