A referee's hand slapped the wrestling mat to secure a pin, and Platte County senior Ethan Karsten vaulted to his feet. The best 145-pound high school wrestler in Missouri pressed an index finger against his lips. Then he pointed toward the sky.
The words came to him later.
"I hope he was watching," Karsten said. "I hope he saw that."
Late Saturday evening here at Mizzou Arena, Karsten won his third consecutive Class 3 state championship. He was the most dominant wrestler in the tournament, pinning all four opponents.
It was an afterthought.
Only six days earlier, Karsten lost a man he called a father figure. His best friend. His brother.
Jourdan Karsten died unexpectedly on Feb. 14. He was 20.
On Wednesday, three days after he pinned Carthage junior Markkel Moore to win the Class 3 145-pound title, Ethan will attend his brother's funeral.
"He was everything to me," he said. "Everything."
Their childhood bond has roots in the wrestling practice room, where they shared hours upon hours. Jourdan introduced his younger brother to the sport when Ethan was 4 years old. They were teammates for one season at Platte County before Jourdan graduated in 2013.
Ethan was a natural, winning national and state youth tournaments with regularity. The dominance continued in high school, with three state titles, the first of which came against a three-time defending champion. The final one came Saturday.
"To go out and do what he did at the state tournament, it was awesome," said Platte County teammate Johnny Blankenship, who won his second state championship at 160 pounds. "Four pins in the state tournament is amazing.
"That's why he's Ethan Karsten."
Karsten, who has committed to wrestle at Missouri next fall, said he never considered skipping the three-day state tournament. After all, he said, Jourdan "would have wanted me to go out there and kick ass."
Fifty-six wrestlers were crowned state champions Saturday.
One pinned his way through the bracket.
He wrestled in his typical fashion — a style built on aggression and intimidation. Toughness and brute strength, he believes, are predictors for success.
As much as the sport itself, he enjoys the spectacle. He trash talks. He boasts. He describes pins as spitting on an opponent.
It was only in the moments before his championship match that he offered a rare departure from form. Inside the darkly-lit college arena, as the public address announcer introduced him, Karsten squatted down on the mat and honored his brother in a method uncharacteristic of his personality.
"Before the match, I said a prayer — not to God, but to my brother," he said. "I told him I just wanted to make him proud."
And then he added one parting thought.
"If you are up there," he said. "Watch this."
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