Kearney is used to having a big contingent at the state wrestling meet.
This year will be no different, except that Bulldogs coach Jake Hill believes this group could be extra-special.
“We’ve had eight or nine the last few years, but this year we’ve got a good nine,” Hill said. “Every one of them we take down has the ability to come home with a medal, and that’s the exciting part.”
Kearney qualified nine wrestlers for the Class 3 state meet from the District 4 tournament Feb. 9-10 at Winnetonka. That’s the exact number the Bulldogs had last year before placing third in the team standings.
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Seven out of this year’s group are returning state qualifiers, including two who were finalists last season.
From a district that included five of the top six teams in last year’s state meet, Kearney crowned four individual champions and won the team title with 215 points.
The top four individuals in each weight class advanced to the state meet, which begins Thursday and continues through Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“I think we set ourselves up really well to go compete for a title,” Hill said. “And that’s been the goal all year.”
It’s been a goal for James Freitag, one of the Bulldogs’ four champions, to get another shot at a state gold medal after losing to Belton’s Brayden Bradley during last year’s final at 106 pounds.
Freitag and Bradley, who both moved up to 113 this season, met in the district final. After falling behind early, Freitag rolled Bradley on his back late in the third period for near-fall points and a 5-1 victory.
Freitag (39-5) had been winless in three matches against Bradley before the district title bout.
“I just started pushing the pace and I didn’t let up,” Freitag said. “Opportunities present themselves and you put it on the other kid.”
Clayton Singh (45-7), the Class 3 champ at 120 pounds last season, stayed on track for another title by beating Platte County’s Blake Bills 10-6 in the 120 final this year.
Kearney’s other champions were freshman Garrett Deason at 106 pounds and sophomore Devan Lewis at 132. The Bulldogs also had two runners-up, Ethan Locke (160) and Brett Mordecai (195), along with two third-place finishers, Caden Green (138) and Matthew Witthar (170).
Coby Aebersold (145) also qualified for state after finishing fourth during the district meet.
“They keep competing; they’re a good group of kids,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t want to go with anybody else.”
Bills was one of nine qualifiers for Platte County, which finished second to Kearney in the team standings.
The Pirates had two champions in Cody Phippen (126), the reigning Class 3 champ at 113, and Sage Smart (220).
Austin Kincaid, who lost to Lewis 7-6 in the 132 final; Dakota Schmidt, who was pinned by Harrisonville’s Sam East in the 182 final; and Nolan Saale, who dropped a 2-1 decision against Grain Valley’s Trent LaGrotte in the 145 final; also reached title bouts for Platte County.
The Pirates’ other state qualifiers are Nick Maddux (third at 113), Nick Filger (fourth at 138) and Matthew Knopp (fourth at 285).
Finally, Smithville, which placed second last year at state, had three district champions among it six qualifiers.
Mitchell Bohlken beat Grain Valley’s Mitchell Alexander 3-0 in the 138 final, Nick Bollinger beat Belton’s Joe Biondo 4-3 in the 152 final and Brian Boyd beat Mordecai in overtime during the 195 final.
Smithville also advanced JT O’Rourke (third at 106), Blake Ackerman (third at 132) and Ryan Hampton (third at 145) to state.