Heather Pankey and Kaylynn Crocker represented St. James at the Missouri Women's Folkstyle State Tournament on Sunday, March 4. The two Lady Tigers had a long day with five matches, but the day ended with fantastic results, as Pankey won her weight class and Crocker took second in her own.
Pankey wrestled at 128-133 and had a stellar day. She opened with a 4-2 win over Nonnie Justice of Harrisonville, before pinning Brooke-Lyn Rush from Benton. She then pinned Lexington's Mellani Nigh in just 24 seconds in her third match. She kept pushing to pin Camdenton's Abigail Cordia in her fourth match, before pinning Claira Wampler of Farmington in the first period to finish off the tournament in first place. She said that one of the real difference-makers was her endurance, as Pankey is also a cross country and track runner.
"You get exhausted after a while," said Pankey of the long day of wrestling. "I have the endurance to push through all of it, but some of the girls didn't have the endurance to push through all of the matches and they were tired. You have to have the hard work and endurance to do all of it and be able to push through everything."
The St. James junior was excited to have the chance to stand on top of the podium and said the championship is driving her to be even better next year.
"I was really excited and nervous at the same time," said Pankey of standing on top of the podium. "I wanna be able to make it with the high school boys to State and see what it's like at actual State, then go to Girls' State afterwards and see how much I've improved since then."
Crocker wrestled at 100-108 and saw a lot of the same success. She opened the tournament with a pin of Kaylee Harker from Lee's Summit West, before pinning Macie Wallace of Fort Zumwalt South. Both pins came in the first period. She then won on a 12-0 major decision over Maysville's McKenzie Gilreath. Crocker took her only loss of the weekend in the fourth round when she was pinned by Lee's Summit's Emma Miller, but she bounced back in the final round when she pinned Lebanon's Emily Young in the first period. She said that Young gave her some extra motivation.
"I went in thinking I was really tired and it was going to be a really tough match, then the girl punched me in the face and I was like 'I'm getting her pinned right now.' I was so mad," said Crocker. "I think it was just all my anger coming though me for that last match."
Crocker took second place with her one loss. She said that wrestling against just women made the tournament easier for her, since she spends a lot of the regular season wrestling against boys.
"It was way easier. I felt more confident in myself, which really helped how I wrestled," said the St. James sophomore. "Whenever I wrestle guys, I just think in my head 'oh they're way stronger than me because they're a boy' and I don't push myself as hard as when I wrestle girls."
Both Crocker and Pankey said they were glad to have each other in their corners. Last year, Crocker went to this event by herself and it was harder to get into the right mindset from the beginning.
"Last year when I did (this tournament) I had to warm up by myself, so I was still a little unconfident about it. This year I had her and I'm used to her wrestling with me and kinda push myself a lot harder with her, so I warmed up a lot better than I normally would," said Crocker. "Then right before each of our matches, we went up at almost the exact same time every single time, so between each match we'd wish each other good luck and we congratulated each other on our wins."
St. James head coach Beau Moreland didn't join Pankey and Crocker this season, as Crocker's dad Mike offered to go down and coach them. Moreland thinks that might have helped them mentally as they went into the long tournament.
"It's kind of nice to let some of the pressures that maybe a coach and a team also do bring on when they're tackling something like that as an individual," said the St. James head coach. "Sometimes they might feel like we expect this out of them and those pressures get to them, so it's kind of nice to let them just go up there and compete and do what they love."
While Moreland wasn't down there coaching them at the tournament, which was hosted by Missouri Valley, he was proud of Pankey and Crocker's performances. He also thinks this was an important event for the growth of girls wrestling at St. James.
"I know this year alone, Kaylynn and myself spoke about a girls team and how would they feel about that and the girls in this town love that idea," said coach Moreland. "There are a lot of girls here at this school that would love the opportunity to go out and wrestle and compete in the sport itself."