PARK CITY, Kan. — Leavenworth senior Nathan Butler feigned smacking his left ear then acted as if he’d caught something falling out the other side as he walked off the mat Saturday following the Class 5A 285-pound final at the Kansas state wrestling championships at Hartman Arena.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Gesturing toward the Pioneers’ fan section, Butler held up three fingers — a signal he’d just become the first three-time state champion in program history with a 9-2 win against Topeka-Seaman’s Dylan Hall.
“Last year, I did a thing for two, so I had to something for three this year,” Butler said.
With the win, Butler, who signed with Stanford in November, improved to 44-0 and added to a gold medal collection that included Class 6A titles at 215 as a sophomore and 220 as a junior.
“Really, the pressure was off this year, because before I was trying to bolster my stats and make it to a good wrestling school,” said Butler, who scored a 35 on the ACT. “When I signed with Stanford, that took a lot of the pressure off and I could just wrestle for me this year.”
Still, winning the state title wasn’t even the highlight of his season.
“The match against (Topeka senior and 5A heavyweight champion Will) Geary was probably still the highlight of my season and really my career,” said Butler, who beat Geary 6-4 at a dual. “He’s a great competitor and great guy. I have tons and tons of respect for that kid.”
Williams also perfect
For an idea how dominant Gardner Edgerton junior Dustin Williams (160) was this season, it’s not enough to know that he finished 43-0.
“Being undefeated means a lot,” Williams said. “Not only that, I didn’t give up a takedown all year. I’m pretty proud of that.”
That’s right — Williams, who won the 6A championship at 145 as a sophomore, didn’t allow any opponent to take him down, including Wichita South junior Kalin Collins.
Williams topped Collins 3-1 in the final for his second straight title.
Trailblazers sophomore Seth Pesek (195) joined Williams atop the podium after topping SM Northwest junior Mario Galvan 3-2 in the 6A final.
“I knew it would be a dogfight out there,” Pesek said. “We’ve gotten closer through the season since we met in the Johnson County Classic final.”
McKinnis claims title
Shawnee Mission Northwest junior Laphonso McKinnis was suspended from the wrestling team last season after he admitted stealing from the locker room.
But rather than dismiss McKinnis outright, Cougars coach Howard Newcomb took him under his wing and tried to help him turn the corner – more as a person than a wrestler.
McKinnis has done both and rewarded Newcomb’s faith with a 6A state championship at 170 pounds after he bulldogged Garden City’s Anthony Gardner 16-11 in the final.
“It’s just very rewarding to be able to see a kid grow and to be able to give him that chance,” Newcomb said. “Some coaches and some people might have written him off, but we could see there was good stuff underneath that rough exterior. There’s a big-hearted kid underneath there.”
Tujague helps Thunder
Powering a runner-up team finish in Class 5A, St. James Academy junior Andrew Tujague made a lifelong dream reality when he edged Topeka-Seaman sophomore Daemeion Gay 1-0 in the final at 138.
“I had high expectations coming into the season, but I never really thought about being a state champion until (Saturday),” Tujague said.
Today, it’s probably all he can think about.
Scoreless after the first period, Tujague, 28-11, rode out Gay in the second period and gained the only point he’d need with an escape midway through the third period.
Two years ago, Lawrence senior Andrew Denning lost the state final at 145.
He didn’t let it happen again in the final high school match of his life — a third-period pin against Gardner Edgerton junior Emilio Fowler to secure the 6A title at 182.
“There was a lot less pressure this time,” Denning said. “My dad (Darin), it’s been his goal and mine to win the state championship in high school. I’m pretty proud that I could achieve that.”
Metro sweep at 220
Wrestlers from the Kansas City area swept the 220 titles with SM West senior Ramiro Gatica pinning BV West junior Chall Jenkins in the 6A final.
“It feels really good,” Gatica said. “I didn’t really think it was possible this year, but all my hard work really paid off. It was pretty shocking to win, but it’s amazing.”
Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas sophomore Ben Ewing outlasted Salina Central senior Kade True 2-1 in triple overtime.
“I beat him 6-1 at Hays, but I knew it would be tougher at state,” Ewing said. “I’m glad I got it done.”
Stovall strikes gold
No wrestler can become a four-time state champion without winning a title as a freshman.
Perhaps Olathe North freshman Blake Stovall is now on his way after striking gold at 126 pounds in Class 6A with an 8-2 decision against Maize’s Brett Moon in the final.
“I’m dreaming about being a four-timer,” Stovall said.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.