The Missouri State Wrestling Championships are here again and Rolla looks to make a big impact for the second year in a row, as they make the trip to Columbia on Thursday. After getting two wrestlers into State Championships and four medalists last season, Rolla will look to add to their growing list of accomplishments with a mix of familiar and new faces at the State Meet. The Bulldogs will send a total of five boys and will also have one Lady Bulldog competing in the first ever Missouri Women's State Championship.
One of those wrestlers that had a chance to a State Title last year was Nate Pulliam. Pulliam suffered his lone loss of the season in the State Championship match a year ago and he's out for revenge in 2019. After starting the season on the sideline with a hip injury, Pulliam is on a tear. The sophomore comes into the State Tournament with a perfect 23-0 record. With the shortened season, Pulliam is feeling fresh and looking forward to another championship run.
"I'm feeling really good. Since the start of my season everything has just kept rolling forward. I haven't really had any downtime," said Pulliam. "I think one thing that has to do with that is that I've had such a short season. There hasn't been a lot of time to have my head down, I've just gone straight at everything. For me with State, it took a month to get here and it took other kids two and a half months to prepare. I think everything is feeling great right now."
Pulliam isn't the only one gunning for a State Title, though. His wrestling partner, Zack Fennell, has had an impressive season of his own. Fennell has taken a little time off since Pulliam's return to get healthy for a State run, but he's been all business on the mat this year. Fennell comes into the State Tournament with just one setback in 23 matches, which came in a tough loss to Oscar Ortiz from McDonald County during Districts. That loss sent Fennell home with a third place finish in the District. Ortiz is a familiar face to Rolla wrestling, as he handed Pulliam his only loss in the State Championship last season. Fennell opened his season with a win over Ortiz earlier this year.
Fennell has a ton of experience at the State Meet and plans to take advantage of it. This is the junior's third straight trip to State and he's medalled every year. This time, he's looking to stand on top of the podium.
"First place," said Fennell on his expectations. "I took third place last year, so there's not a lot left to go and I don't wanna take second. I'm aiming for a State Championship next week."
Rolla also has a freshman who's looking to take the State Championships by storm just like Pulliam and Fennell did at the start of their high school careers. Hayden Fane was an accomplished youth wrestler and now the freshman at 160 is looking to shine at the high school level. He comes into the State Meet with a record of 31-9 and fresh off a District Title, which is difficult to do as a freshmen at 160. While he's hoping to stand on the podium to cap off his first season at in high school, Fane is mostly looking forward to the opportunity to wrestle the best competition the state has to offer.
"I'm definitely looking forward to warming up in the Mizzou wrestling room, that's going to be a cool experience. And just being up there with all the guys, the top competitors in the State of Missouri," said Fane. "Definitely shooting for a medal. I just want to go out there and work my moves against the best in the State."
Also qualifying for the Bulldogs was Xander Sederburg at 120. The sophomore was electric this season, going 38-3 this season on his way to a second place finish at Districts. Sederburg comes from a long line of wrestlers, as his dad was a third place finisher at State, while his brother Anthony earned a third place finish last season. Xander is looking to follow suit and maybe take a step up on the podium.
"I'm hoping to place. My dad got third, (Anthony) got third and maybe I can get third," said the Rolla sophomore.
The final boy to qualify is a veteran of the wrestling room, but a newcomer to the State Meet. Colton Franks has been right on the brink of qualifying for State the last two seasons, but was finally able to break through with a third place finish at Districts. Franks had a long route to the State Meet, as he lost his first match of the tournament, which led to a long run in the consolation bracket. Franks went on to win four matches on Saturday to earn his trip to State and he's looking forward to making the trip to Columbia.
"I think I have a shot at getting a medal. I'm just want to go hard at practice this week, wrestle with Hayden and get us both a medal," said Franks. "(I'm looking forward to) the experience and getting to wrestle against kids I haven't seen in front of a bunch of people in a big arena, getting to wrestle on a big stage for once."
As for the Lady Bulldogs, Hannah O'Connor is making history for Rolla, as she is the first female wrestler to qualify for State. O'Connor is one of the few female wrestlers for Rolla that came into the season with some experience and the sophomore is glad that she's had the chance to take part in the first official girls season in Missouri.
"It's absolutely amazing, just the experience and watching the girls win and have the experience I had when I was younger. It feels awesome," said O'Connor.
O'Connor is thrilled to be the first female wrestler to represent Rolla at the State Championships, even if that fact is still a bit of a shock.
"It's definitely a whirlwind," said O'Connor. "It's hard to keep my mind around it."
The young Lady Bulldog heads into the State Meet with a record of 19-3 and is looking forward to seeing some of the best competition in the state and is hoping to make an impact on the biggest stage.
"I'm mostly looking forward to wrestling my hardest and seeing what will happen," said O'Connor. "(I'm aiming for) Top three."
O'Connor will be the first Rolla wrestler to take the mat, as the girls' session will start at 2 p.m., while the Class 3 and 4 boys have the last session of the day on Thursday. The Bulldogs' first day of matches will start at 5:00.