The St. James wrestling team took part in the State Wrestling Championships on Thursday through Saturday. Feb. 15-17. The Tigers came away with two medals, as Mikey Crocker took third for the second straight season and Thomas Henderson earned his first medal with a sixth place finish.
Crocker came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, needing just 43 seconds to pin his way to the second round. He ran into a tougher challenge in round two, but still pulled out a 5-3 sudden victory win in overtime to stay alive in the winner's bracket. Crocker needed one more win to earn a spot in the championship match, but he ran into a wall with Logan Rogersville's Jay Strausbaugh.
The St. James senior fought hard against Strausbaugh, but couldn't get the sophomore 132 pounder on his back. Strausbaugh was able to get a couple of takedowns and win the match 6-2, sending Crocker to the consolation bracket.
Crocker responded to the loss by rolling through the consolation bracket. The senior won his consolation semi 6-3, before beating Mexico's Dylan Patton 7-2 to finish in third place.
Crocker is now the first St. James wrestler to finish as high as third place back-to-back seasons at State, finishing off his high school career on a solid note.
"It's one of those things where he's always been right there. He's worked, worked and worked, trying to get that one match and it's always that one match that he's out there fighting," said St. James head coach Beau Moreland. "Like he told me earlier, that's wrestling for ya. You're gonna win some, you're gonna lose some and there's not a whole lot you can do about it after that."
While back-to-back third place finishes are great accomplishments, Crocker isn't satisfied and plans on putting in even more work as he prepares to wrestle in college.
"My State experience was nothing but a battle," said Crocker. " I thought I'd put the work in and it called me out and proved that I needed to work more. I'm not satisfied with ending my high school season with a third place medal."
Thomas Henderson followed Crocker at 138, but had a longer road to a medal in the wrestlebacks. The St. James senior won his first match on an 18-2 tech fall, before losing a heartbreaker 5-4 to Chance Sullivan of Pleasant Hill. Henderson had to bounce back from the loss to make it into the medal rounds, as he was still two wins shy of guaranteeing a medal.
The St. James 138 started his journey through the wrestlebacks by pinning Maryville's Connor Weiss, before beating Odesa's Bryce Palmer 13-6. After securing a medal, Henderson took a pair of losses on Saturday morning, losing to Borgia's Dylan Hellebusch 7-3 to put him in the fifth place match, where he found a familiar face in Sullivan. Sullivan had the upper-hand again, winning 9-4.
"It feels good, but it still feels like I fell short of what I wanted," said Henderson after receiving his sixth place medal. "I wanted to be top three. I definitely could've wrestled better if I had a little more confidence in myself."
Coach Moreland was glad to see Henderson get his first medal in his last trip to State.
"That's awesome. He's an outstanding guy. A great wrestler and one of those guys that I've always said I could feel like he could have four championship medals, because he's that caliber of a wrestler and he puts that kind of work in," said Moreland. "For him to be able to medal for his first time after four years of being that level of a wrestler, I'm happy to see him go out with one no matter where he was on the podium."
Drake Ortiz fell one match short of medaling. After taking a second round loss to Colton Gillespie in overtime, Ortiz got a pin to set up a matchup with Josh Richards of St. Clair for the chance to medal. Richards was fresh off his second loss of the season to defending State Champ Tyler Curd and managed to outlast Ortiz 9-4 to send the defending State runner up home without a medal.
"Knowing that no matter how you look at it, you know you're gonna have to face the guy you saw in the finals last year just to make to to the finals was hard enough going into it," said coach Moreland of Ortiz's tough bracket. "Then on top of that, having Kirksville and we saw him earlier in the season and knew it was going to be a tough match...then you get the guy who took fourth (Richards) and you've got the history there."
Ty Lewis and Cole Petty both fell two matches short of medaling, while Zach Woodson lost his first two matches. Nick Wilson qualified, but did not wrestle due to injury.
All but one of St. James' State Qualifiers were seniors and coach Moreland knows they wanted to do better over the weekend, but that doesn't take away from the impact they've made on the Tiger wrestling program.
"When you look at all these seniors and the careers that they've had through their high school years, there's so much that they've accomplished in our town and for our team," said Moreland. "Even though they didn't the State Championship that they all probably could've if it all worked out their way, they still did a lot for us as a team and a school and a community that is going to help our wrestling program for years to come.
"That's as good as a State Championship for me, as the coach," added the St. James head coach.
This senior class has made a lot of memories together while building the St. James wrestling programs to it's current heights, making their last State trip together very bitter sweet.
"I'm grateful to have become so close to the team and will be sad to part ways," said Crocker. "I know the guys will do amazing things after college and become amazing men and women."
Henderson said that he's be glad to have his friends along the way as they've leaned on each other for the last four years of high school.
"It's helped me quite a bit," said Henderson of having this senior class by his side. "I've had my friends able to push me in the practice room, push me on the mat and help me improve."