The Rolla and St. James wrestling teams took part in their District Tournaments over the weekend. Rolla competed in the Class 3 District 3 Meet, while St. James took part in Class 2 District 1. Five Bulldogs were able to earn trips to State, earning a pair of District Championships along the way. St. James, meanwhile, saw a pair of Tigers punch their tickets to State.
Nate Pulliam was able to win a District Championship for the second straight season, cruising through his bracket at 132. The Rolla sophomore started with a pair of pins on Friday, before starting his day Saturday with a pin of Lebanon's Cole Roark. Pulliam faced off against Neosho's Kolton Sanders for the championship, overcoming a couple of close scares to get a 15-5 major decision win. Pulliam was glad he was able to overcome the hip injury he suffered before the season to claim another District Championship and head into the State Tournament with a perfect record of 23-0.
"It felt good, especially after my hip injury," said Pulliam of earning the spot in the top of the podium. "I didn't know where it would put me. I knew my stamina would be down and coming back for the first three weeks it was down a lot. Ever since then, it's gone up and I feel good now. Not where I want to be, but I'm still fine with where I'm at right now."
For Rolla head coach Marty Hauck, Pulliam's run this season is simple: keep doing what you're doing.
"He's just gotta keep being Nate," said Hauck. "He's just gotta keep wrestling the way he is. I don't know who can beat him in the State. He's just wrestling physical, he's wrestling technical and he's healthy right now. As long as he keeps those three things in play, he's going to be the one to beat for sure."
Pulliam wasn't the only champion from Rolla this season, as Hayden Fane was able to charge through his bracket at 160 to win his first District championship as a freshman. After a first round bye, Fane pinned Gavin Wallace of Willard in the quarterfinal, before winning a 4-0 decision over Marshfield's Jordon Irwin to earn a spot in the championship. Fane was dominant in the championship match, beating Lebanon's Colt Adkins 7-1 for his first career District Championship.
"It's been crazy," said Fane of his first District Tournament. "It definitely has a different vibe going around and it's a do or die kind of thing. It's been a fun experience to be able to get it under my belt for the first year.
"It went better than I could have hoped for," continued the freshman. "Definitely coming down as a freshman, there are definitely some seniors where it was there last year, so it was fight or flight for them. This was definitely more than I could've hoped for, for sure."
Coach Hauck was thrilled to see Fane perform well at the District meet, just as he has all season long. The freshman has overcome a lot to even find himself on the mat this season and he's taken advantage of the opportunity.
"This is great to see, especially since he's had the last year and a half off with an injury," said Hauck. "He was in a wheelchair for a while, he had a major injury and surgery. To see him come back the way that he has in the weight class that he has, I mean he has all the coaches talking about him. He's a very talented kid and it's exciting to be a part of his career."
Rolla also had one more Bulldog wrestling for a title in Xander Sederburg. Sederburg opened the tournament with a pair of first period pins on Friday night, before beating Neosho's Gabriel Selby on a 12-4 major decision in the semi-final. That set up a championship match against a familiar foe in Grant Garrett from Camdenton. Sederburg and Garrett faced off against each other twice in the span of a week with a dual and the Ozark Conference meet the week before. After splitting the previous two matches, Garrett won the rematch 4-0, but Sederburg was glad to earn his first ever trip to State.
"Last year it was pretty unfortunate that I didn't get to go to Districts, so it was really fun to compete," said Sederburg. "It was a fun weekend."
Coach Hauck liked what he saw out of Sederburg all weekend long.
"X wrestled well. I'm very proud of him, he's had a great season," said the Rolla head coach. "We're not done yet. He knows next week, we're there and that's the goal of this week was to get to next week."
The Bulldogs also had a pair of third place finishers. The first was Zack Fennell, who nearly earned a spot in the District Championship. The Rolla junior cruised through the first two rounds, needing a combined minute and 14 seconds to get a pair of pins Friday night. He then faced a familiar foe in Oscar Ortiz from McDonald County. The two faced off earlier this year with Fennell getting the win, but Ortiz was able to take the rematch with a few late back points in the third to win 5-2. That sent Fennell to the consolation bracket where the junior wrestled angry. He started with a 55 second pin of Lebanon's Cael Schmitz, before pinning Webb City's Josh Copher in the third period to finish in third place. Fennell will now be heading to State for the third straight year and it's pretty much business as usual for the Rolla junior.
"I'm getting used to it," said Fennell with a chuckle. "This is just the beginning. It's nice to get it out of the way."
While Fennell was frustrated with the semifinal loss, he was glad the loss came now instead of in Columbia at State.
"It's not something I'm going to dwell on," said Fennell. "I'm happy it happened here instead of State and now I know what I need to work on going into State."
Coach Hauck liked seeing Fennell's resiliency after taking a tough loss in the semifinal and was happy to see the junior punch his ticket to State for the third time.
"He didn't let it effect his next match and that's the key right there," said Hauck. "It's true adversity and he fought that. If he does that next week, it's going to be great. Proud of him battling back and now it's his to lose, he's got to go win."
Joining Fennell in third place was another first time qualifier in Colton Franks. Franks has been on the brink of qualifying for State for the last two seasons and was finally able to break through this weekend. Franks had to take the long route to the podium, losing his first match of the weekend 4-3 to Lebanon's Jake Henson Friday night. That led to a long Saturday, but an excellent run from the Rolla junior. Franks started with a first period pin of Union's Luke Siddens, before another quick pin of John Hickman from Republic. Franks then needed just 24 seconds to pin Jonas Keohane from Willard to earn a spot in the third place match against a familiar foe. Franks was able to avenge his loss from the night before, beating Henson 3-2 to finish in third place and earn his first trip to State.
"It felt great to qualify. I've been in the bubble match and haven't been able to get it done. This year I was able to get it done and it feels amazing," said Franks. "I'm not going to lie, after (the first match with Henson) I was a little down on myself. I was a little sad about it, but I knew I'd get another shot at him today so I just kept wrestling my best and took advantage of it. It felt good to finally beat him."
After seeing Franks get so close the last two seasons, coach Hauck was glad to see him finally break through to earn a trip to State.
"We beat Henson in the third place match and I told him had we beat him yesterday then maybe it would've been a lot easier," said the Rolla head coach with a laugh. "He won four matches today and when he shoots, he scores. He knows that and today he came out with a fire in his belly and just went after it and it was fun to see."
Rolla also had a few wrestlers that fell just short of qualifying. Bryce O'Connor won both of his matches Friday night, before getting pinned twice on Saturday. The second pin came just before the buzzer at the end of the first period, which would've given him a chance to reset and possibly bounce back in the second. Hunter Hoffman fell a match short at 106. After losing his first match, Hoffman won his first two matches of the day at 106, but lost to Wyatt George of Republic by sudden victory 4-2 in overtime. Dathan Mickem was wrestling well in his first consolation match on Saturday, but rolled a little to far against Ethan Walker of Carl Junction and was pinned. Justin McEnaney had a hard-fought tournament at 145. After a tough 2-0 loss Friday night, he earned a pin in his first match Saturday, before having his run fall short in a 3-1 loss to Carl Junction's Cole Stewart. Andre Ridenhour had the same luck at 152, going 1-1 on Friday, before winning his first match Saturday on a major decision. Ridenhour then was pinned in his second match on Saturday. David Rodgers also went 2-2 over the weekend, with his second loss coming on a tough 7-3 loss to Camdenton's Dakota Davis. Rolla's Chris Williams and Terrance Horton each went 0-2 over the weekend in their weight classes. Overall, Rolla finished in fourth place as a team.
St. James, meanwhile, will send two wrestlers to State next weekend. Zach Achtererg had the longest journey to State, wrestling in four matches over the weekend. Achterberg started with a pin in his first match, before pinning Conner Westermayer of Afton in the quarterfinal. He then pulled out a great 7-5 sudden victory against Potosi's Austin Harris. The weekend didn't get any easier, as he grinding through a tough match against Noah Ogden for the championship. Achterberg just ran out of gas in the championship, getting punned with 41 seconds left in the match, but head coach Beau Moreland was thrilled with his performance over the weekend.
"We knew going into it that there's only two boys in that bracket that I knew would give him a tough go and one of them was Harris and the other was Ogden," said coach Moreland of Achterberg's final two matches. "Harris is a kid that knows how to wrestle, he's a big strong kid, aggressive and I told him he had to pace himself.
"He got down by four points quick, like just off the get and then he got a reversal and got a takedown himself to tie it back up. As the third period came, you could see the tides changing. You could see Harris was starting to get worn out," continued the St. James head coach. "(In the overtime) he got out there and Zach snapped that kid so hard that I thought the kid shot on Zack, but Zack had snapped so hard that the kid's face flew into the mat. Zack shot right around behind, got his two and it was over right there when it started. He wrestled very well that match."
Frank Parsons also qualified for St. James at 120. Parsons had a light bracket at 120, so he had byes until the semifinal. Parsons lost his first match of the weekend to Park Hill Central's Garrett Smith, but he ran the table from there. Parsons won his first consolation match with a pin in the first period against St. Genevieve's Kacha Pholjan, before pinning Sullivan's Joe Lewis in the third place match to punch his ticket to State with a third place finish.
"He was going to have to win in either the semifinals or the consolation semifinals and both matches were going to be a decently tough kid," said coach Moreland. "Franks is the kind of wrestler who can wrestle with any of them, he's just not as experienced as most of them. He lost the first one and then he goes in the consolation semifinals and just takes it to the kid. He just decided he wanted to go to State and did the exact thing he did in the semifinals, but this time he actually fixed a few little things and stuck that kid.
"He went into the third place match and did the exact same thing to him. It was kind of like he hit a little switch," continued Moreland. "He took everything that he's worked on this year and he was motivated. In the past, there's been young wrestlers that they get to that level and it's almost like they're scared to succeed. He was not. He was motivated and he wanted to see what State's like and he went out and got the job done."
Both of St. James' qualifiers are sophomores. Coach Moreland was glad to see his young team was able to get a pair of sophomores earn a trip to State, which will hopefully be some important building blocks as the program starts to grow again.
"It's super nice to see," said coach Moreland of his young wrestlers qualifying. "At the beginning of this season, we knew we were starting over, we were starting fresh (with the boys). Having a new girls program to deal with as well, wondering how we were going to do all that. It was very very rewarding to see these guys go out there and wrestle the way that they wrestled."
The Missouri State Wrestling Championships kick off on Thursday, Feb. 14. Check back in later this week to hear from the wrestlers as they prepare for the biggest wrestling event of the year.