By Chris Parker & Zach Mason
Monett had had a target on its back all year as one of the favorites to win the Class 2 state wrestling title.
The Cubs have more risen to the challenge in the first two days at the Class 2 state wrestling tournament. Monett leads the team standings after two days with 122 team points. Bolivar sits in second place with 98 points.
Three Cubs will hope to help expand that lead by winning state championships on Saturday.
Karter Brink (120 pounds), Matthew Bahl (126 pounds) and Joey Semerad (132 pounds) will all wrestle for state championships.
Brink earned his way into the finals by way of a 9-2 decision over Odessa’s Shon Badder.
“It felt great. I stuck to my plan and controlled my hands. I was able to control the match,” Brink said.
Brink, who is a defending state champion, will wrestle another defending state champion in unbeaten Sam Hrabovsky (34-0) from Fulton.
“I know he (Hrabovsky) is tough on top. If I go bottom I’m going to have to get away quick and go to my offense,” Brink said.
Bahl, who who was runner-up to Hrabovsky last season in the 113-pound final, made his way to the 126-pound championship by way of a 6-1 decision over Pleasant Hill’s Zach Redwine. He will face unbeaten Kade Willis (42-0) from Central Park Hills for a championship tomorrow.
Semerad is a two-time defending state champion, and he showed it in the 132-pound semifinal round with a pin of Excelsior Springs’ Damon Ashworth at the 5:44 mark of the match.
He will try to go three-for-three in state championships, but will have to get by familiar foe in Rogersville’s Jay Strausbaugh who himself is a defending state champion.
“I know it’s going to be a good match. I wrestled him last week and I’d love to get revenge. I just want to go out there and end the season on a good note,” Semerad said.
Strausbaugh also advanced to the 132-pound final via pin of St. Clair’s Dalton Thompson at the 4:45 mark of the match.
His strategy for the rematch with Semerad is simple.
“I am going to try to work like I did at districts and not let any easy shots get in,” Strausbaugh said.
Bolivar matched Monett with three finalists on Saturday. Austin Coons (145), Hayden Burks (160) and Drayton Hutcheman (220) all will represent the Liberators in championship bouts.
Coons, who was a two-time runner-up at Odessa before transferring to Bolivar for his junior year, beat Kirksville’s Blake Howard 4-2 to advance to the title match.
His two runner-up finishes have taught Coons a different way to look at wrestling.
“Just know to have fun every match. I wasn’t wrestling for fun when I was the runner-up the last few years, and now I am. You need to wrestle for fun every match because you never know when it will be your last,” Coons said.
He will also be hoping to help boost the team score for Bolivar, as the Liberators chase a team trophy.
“I love wrestling because it is a team sport. You get momentum when your team is doing great. Being able to wrestle with your best friends is amazing,” Coons said.
If he is to win his first state title, he will have to get by unbeaten defending state champion Dillon Nichols (26-0) from Mexico.
Burks flew a little under the radar last year on his way to a state runner-up finish, but this year has been much different, as the junior currently sports a perfect 51-0 record.
“You get kind of nervous before matches thinking ‘I could lose my undefeated season’, but you just have to go out there and give it your all,” Burks aid.
He held off Centralia’s Grafton Littrell in a 7-5 decision to advance to the 160-pound championship match where he will face Winfield’s Clark Rogers (44-4)
Hutcheman (36-13) qualified for the 220-pound championship by beating Monett’s Harrison Merriman 4-2. He will face Priory’s Dalton Bingman (26-3) in the championship match.
Buffalo is also sending two wrestlers to the championship round in its return to Class 2 after two seasons in Class 1. Ethan Smith, a former state champion and state runner-up from last year, will represent the Bison at 152 pounds. Floyd Miller qualified for his first MSHSAA state championship final at 170 pounds.
Smith (54-2) had no trouble with Moberly’s Tristan Morris in a 9-4 semifinal decision.
While happy to be back in the state championship match, he is focused on getting back to the top of the podium after coming up short last year.
“It (finishing second) has motivated me a crazy amount. This has been the hardest off season I’ve put into it, I really pushed myself and I feel like I deserve it,” Smith said.
Smith also won his 200th match in the quarterfinals, but the No. 202 would mean even more to him.
“That’s an awesome accomplishment, but I’m trying to get 202 tomorrow and then we’ll celebrate that,” Smith said.
Miller, who is a three-time placer, finally earned his long-awaited berth in a state title bout by pinning Owensville’s Blaine Schoenfeld in just 77 seconds.
“I have wrestled on a lot of big stages, but never one this big. It means a lot for me,” Miller said.
He will face a familiar opponent in Reeds Spring’s Clayton Johnson in the 170-pound title match.
“I already know that I have beaten him (Johnson) twice, but that doesn’t change anything for me. I just have to go in there and wrestle him like any other opponent,” Miller said.
Johnson won his semifinal match in a high-scoring 10-5 decision over Oak Grove’s Noah Sears.
“It was very fast paced. I started off down in points but the neutral game is where I always like to be worked out big time for me in the end. Takedown after takedown,” Johnson said.
It will also be Johnson’s first time wrestling for a MSHSAA state championship.
“This is my first time headed to the title match,” Johnson said. “I’ve dreamed about it since I was five years old. Nothing better.”