COLUMBIA, Mo. – For the third-straight year, the Liberty High boys wrestling dominated the competition en route to a Class 4 team state championship.
The Blue Jays locked up their three-peat after the second day of the three-day Missouri state tournament at Mizzou Arena. But, the Blue Jays were far from done competing. They had 10 wrestlers battling for medalist spots, and seven of those were in the finals of their respective weight classes.
After the dust settled, and Liberty won four individual state titles, the Blue Jays nearly doubled the second-place team in points. They scored 214.5 team points, beating runner-up Seckman by 100.5. Staley finished third with 92.5 points.
Two years ago, the Blue Jays scored 241 points, beating runner-up Park Hill by nearly 100 points. They followed it up with 226 points at last year’s championship, winning it by 109 points
“This year has been awesome,” Liberty coach Dustin Brewer said. “We’ve got to go to a couple really high-level tournaments and we competed. This was a good weekend. The boys wrestled hard and I’m really proud of them.
“As much of a team sport as this is, it’s a lot of individuals. They’re trying to get their individual goals, so we talked to them about how if they can get their individual goals, the team stuff will take care of itself.”
This year’s squad advanced to seven of the 14 championship matches. The first Liberty state title came at 113 pounds. Sophomore Hunter Taylor, who finished third at 106 last year, went 4-0 this year to capture his first state title. Taylor led Seckman’s Matthew Cook 13-0, thanks to a nine-point second period, before he pinned Cook 29 seconds into the third period.
Taylor pinned two opponents at state, while also winning another by a major decision, 10-0. His closest match was a 7-0 victory in the semifinals.
“I’m pretty happy, because losing in the semis last year we pretty heartbreaking,” Taylor said. “Now that I won it, it feels good like I achieved something.
“… That finals match, I felt pretty good. I was a little big slow in my semis and quarters, but that one I felt pretty good in.”
Fellow sophomore Christopher Coates won his second state title in as many years. He brought home the 120 championship last year, but moved up to 132 this year.
Coates entered state with one loss on his season. His longest match before the finals was a pin in 1 minute and 15 seconds. In the finals, Coates scored a takedown in the first period and an escape in the third, defeating Park Hill’s Cael Keck 3-0.
Liberty’s third state title also came after a win over Park Hill. Liberty senior Kyle Dutton faced Park Hill senior Kal Miller in a rematch from districts where Miller won 3-0 after a second-period takedown. At state, the two local wrestlers entered the final period tied at two.
“That match fired me up, because I felt what it was like to lose and I didn’t want that again,” Dutton said. “The next day, I went and got to work.”
Dutton chose down to begin the period, and he scored an escape point in 16 seconds. With time winding down in the match, Dutton scored his second takedown of the match before Miller escaped with just five seconds remaining. Dutton won the match 5-3, winning his third state title to go along with a fourth-place finish as a freshman.
“He was getting sloppy on his shots and he was looking for space to try and force something that wasn’t there, and he left his legs open for the counter,” Dutton said of the match. “It’s a great feeling, especially to finish on top and the way I did it by beating a lot of good guys on the way. It was an amazing ride and I wouldn’t wish for anything else.”
The final state title came in the Blue Jays’ last match of the tournament. At 195 pounds, Liberty senior Wentric Williams III won his second-straight state championship, with the first coming at 182 last year.
Williams pinned his third opponent of the tournament to win the crown. He beat Holt’s Isaiah Slaughter by fall in the second period. Williams led 19-5, with a tech fall one-point away, before earning the pin midway through the second period.
“He’s incredible,” Brewer said. “He’s going to school to play football next year, but if he would have decided to wrestle, he would have done well anywhere, too.”
Freshman Devon Harrison reached the 106 finals, but he fell to Hickman freshman Hank Benter, who ended his season undefeated. Benter pinned Harrison in the first round.
Senior Logan Rathjen battled Ozark junior Braxton Strick for the 152 title. Each wrestler scored an escape point in the match, but Strick scored a takedown with 0:02 remaining in the second period that led to his 3-1 victory.
Senior Jeremiah Halter won a pair of one-point matches en route to the 182 championship match. There, Halter and Oak Park senior Paul Hernandez were battling in a scoreless tie until Hernandez pinned Halter.
The other Liberty state medalists were junior Cooper Rider (4th, 120), senior Easton Hilton (3rd, 138) and freshman Peyton Westpfahl (5th, 160).
“We had a couple good surprises,” Brewer said. “Jeremiah Halter had a good year, but he was only a state qualifier in the year past, and he ended up making the state finals. He wrestled really great all weekend, and ended up beating two guys that beat him earlier in the year. Cooper Rider is another one that ended up fourth, but he was fourth at districts last weekend and wrestled really well this weekend.”
The Blue Jays graduate five seniors who wrestled at state. The other six wrestlers will be helping the Blue Jays attempt to win a fourth-straight state championship.
“We have a big group of seniors, so since they’ve been in high school, they have a second-place and three first-places, so it’s kind of a special group of guys,” Brewer said. “I think your younger guys are hungry to win again and keep the streak going. It’s important to them.”
– story by Jimmy Gilllispie