Losing three starting wrestlers can be tough for any program, and it has presented a challenge for Belton — a challenge the Pirates have pretty much conquered.
“This has handicapped us in duals and even really tournaments as we have not had a full lineup all season,” Belton wrestling coach Cody Newman said. “With all that, we have had a great deal of success on the mat to this point.”
Fortunately for Newman, Belton still had plenty of talent in its room even after losing Michael Biondo, Zach Kroah and Chance Simpson for the season. After closing the regular season Jan. 30 with a victory at Raytown South, the Pirates could stand proudly on a 13-4 record in duals as they turned their attention to the upcoming Class 3, District 4 tournament.
“We have several guys wrestling very consistently this year, which has allowed them to have a good year to this point,” Newman said. “We have seen some tough competition at tournaments, which is what we want so our guys are tested and ready going into districts.”
Even with those starters gone, Belton still has a core group of four wrestlers that includes two returning state champions and a state medalist.
Brayden Bradley, the Class 3 106-pound champion last year as a sophomore, is 36-8 this season at 113 pounds and currently ranked No. 5 in the state at his weight.
Junior Robert Weber is 37-5 and ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds after winning the Class 3 title at 152 last season.
Andrew Gamble (160), who is also a junior, is 44-2 and also ranked No. 1.
But the leader of this group is Joe Biondo, the Pirates’ lone senior. Biondo, 45-2, placed sixth at 145 last season and is ranked No. 2 this season at 152. Both of his losses came against Oklahoma wrestlers during a tournament in Cushing, Okla.
“Joe has been a great leader for us in the room,” Newman said. “The core group is pretty talented, but they work hard every day at practice, which makes the rest of our team better.”
That core has helped Belton to fourth-place finishes in some of the state’s most competitive tournaments, including Neosho, Platte County and last weekend’s George Hoover Invitational at Liberty.
Newman hopes that competition means Belton will be up for the challenge of the Class 3, District 4 tourney Feb. 9-10 at Winnetonka.
Smithville, Kearney and Platte County — the second-, third- and fifth-place teams at state last season — are in the field, so the brackets will be stacked.
The top-four finishers in each weight class advance to the state meet Feb. 15-17 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“In my opinion, this is the toughest district in the state,” Newman said. “I feel like our guys are wrestling well, for the most part healthy and ready for the challenge. I think we have two or three guys that are being overlooked that will find a way to win a match at districts to get to the state tournament.”