One of the nation’s premier high school wrestling tournaments comes to Kansas City this week.
The ninth annual Kansas City Stampede will play host to 40 teams from 12 states at Hale Arena. The three-day event, which begins Thursday, regularly ranks among the most competitive high school tournaments in the country.
Platte County, Park Hill, Blue Springs, Oak Grove, Smithville, Kearney and Staley will send wrestlers to Hale Arena. Park Hill won the Missouri Class 4 team state championship last season, and Oak Grove is the Missouri Class 2 defending state champion.
As many of them prepare for a big early-season test, here’s a list of some of the Kansas City area’s top wrestlers to watch this season:
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Jayden Bears, Staley, senior
So why is Sachs’ weight class a tough one? Well, it includes another Missouri state champion. Bears won the Class 3 160-pound title last year, losing only two matches in the process. He has started the season 6-0 with five pins. Staley will look to be in the team championship picture this season, with Bears paving the way.
Johnny Blankenship, Platte County, junior
Blankenship put together one of the most improbable state-championship runs last season, when he won the Class 3 145-pound title after finishing only fourth in his district tournament. Blankenship said he took advantage of flying under the radar, but he won’t have that opportunity this year, when everyone will know his name. Wrestling at 160 pounds, he settled for third place in the Gardner Invitational earlier this month.
Christian Boyles, Blue Springs South, senior
It took a last-second move for Boyles to capture the Class 4 220-pound state title last season, and he’s already carried the momentum in 2015. Boyles tallied seven wins in the opening week of the season while wrestling in the same weight class. He is one of six returning state qualifiers for a quickly-improving Blue Springs South team.
Connor Brown, Oak Grove, sophomore
Oak Grove won its 15th state championship in program history last season. If the Panthers are to win No. 16 — which would tie them for the most in state history — Brown will lead the way. He’s the team lone returning state champion after winning the 106-pound title as a freshman last season. He’s wrestling the same weight this winter.
Ty Cochran, Harrisonville, senior
After winning the Class 2 126-pound title last year — capping his 48-win season — Cochran and the Wildcats will make the jump to Class 3 this season. That’s certainly no easy assignment. Cochran has already fallen twice this season, but he remains a wrestler to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
Colston DiBlasi, Park Hill, senior
DiBlasi will try to cap his high school resume with a third straight Class 4 state championship before he heads off to Iowa State to continue his career into college. DiBlasi is notoriously difficult to score against. He took seventh place in the Walsh Jesuit Ironman over the weekend and will be looking to improve on that showing in the Kansas City Stampede.
Austin Eveler, Lee’s Summit West, senior
He had one of the most dramatic state-championship victories last season, when he won the Missouri Class 4 132-pound title with a five-point comeback. The victory — which came one year after he finished second — reduced Eveler to tears afterwards. For two years, he hunted a state title. Now that he’s on top, how will Eveler handle everyone gunning for him instead?
Ke-Shawn Hayes, Park Hill, senior
The list must start with Hayes, a two-time defending state champion who breezed through a 47-0 season as a junior. Hayes spent most of last season ranked No. 1 nationally in his weight class. After a move up to 138 pounds this season, he is ranked second nationally on FloWrestling.com. Hayes, who signed last month with Ohio State, will be the favorite in his weight class this weekend.
Sean Hosford, Park Hill, junior
Two high school seasons. Two Class 4 state championships. Hosford commented last spring that his goal is to become a four-time state champion, and based off his first two seasons, there’s little reason to believe he can’t accomplish that. But Hosford has made a big jump in weight. After winning at 120 pounds last season, he’s wrestling at 145 in this week’s Kansas City Stampede.
Ethan Karsten, Platte County, junior
Despite losing 12 matches last season, Karsten won the Class 3 132-pound weight class. The path to his first state title required a victory against a three-time state champion. Needless to say, Karsten is battle tested. He is wrestling at 145 pounds this season, a weight class that he won at the Gardner Edgerton Invitational to open the season. Karsten is ranked 15th in the nation in his new weight class on FloWrestling.com.
Luke Sachs, Smithville, junior
Smithville placed second in the Class 2 team race last season and won three individual titles. Among those three, Sachs is the lone returner. He won at 182 pounds last season and made it look relatively easy. In that same weight class, Sachs is in a loaded division in the Kansas City Stampede this week.
Matthew Schmitt, Platte County, junior
After a second-place finish at the state tournament as a freshman, Schmitt says the runner-up showing provided all the motivation he needed for his sophomore season. Apparently so. He won the Class 3 106-pound title, losing only one match. The task gets tougher this season, when Schmitt makes the move up to 126 pounds.