De Soto’s seven-year stranglehold on the Jefferson County Activities Association wrestling championship could end on Feb. 4.
That’s when Hillsboro takes on Windsor and Affton in a triangular meet in the final tuneup before district tournaments begin around the state.
The Hawks beat the Dragons 55-24 and Festus 68-9 in a tri-meet in
De Soto on Jan. 14 to improve to 3-0 in the conference this season. Hillsboro beat Herculaneum on Dec. 4.
The JCAA has crowned a wrestling team champion for seven years, and the Dragons have won them all.
But if Hillsboro gets past Windsor on Feb. 4, it will have swept its league opponents.
“It’s a lot of work and we’ve been building for a long time,” Hillsboro head coach Matt Mitchell said. “A lot of credit goes to our youth program. I’ve spent a lot of time creating those relationships. The freshmen are having great seasons. It’s cool they’re getting all this press. I’ve known those kids for five years. I knew they’d perform. It’s been a culture change for us. It’s been fun to watch our program grow.’
Four state qualifiers – two from each team – helped shape the outcome between Hillsboro and De Soto. Seniors Kenny Coats (113 at state last year) and Chase Greenlee (195) reached Columbia for the Dragons last season and they faced off against Hawks Aidan Haggard (113) and Zach McNees (182) in last week’s tri-meet.
Coats pinned Haggard last year in a conference match, but Haggard turned the tables by pinning Coats in 1:09 at 120 pounds in the tri-meet.
“Kenny shot in and as he tried to back out, Aidan caught his head and arm and put him on his back. Aidan had it locked up tight,” Mitchell said. “We knew if we won that one, that would set the tone. Aidan fired out and put Kenny on his back and pinned him.”
“We had four matches that could have gone either way,” said De Soto head coach John Brown, whose Dragons beat Festus 42-37 in their dual. “It would have been a tighter dual but it was exciting and the fans were quite loud.”
Greenlee beat McNees in their league match last season, but McNees pinned Greenlee in 2:20 at 182 this time around.
“That sealed it for us with two weights to go,” Mitchell said. “Last year, we thought we were going to win that match but didn’t. For Zach to rectify things from last year was a big deal.”
Hillsboro’s other two returning state qualifiers – sophomore Dalton Litzsinger and senior James Short – each were 2-0 in their dual matches against De Soto and Festus. Against the Dragons, Short took care of Seth Thompson in 17 seconds at 132, and Litzsinger felled Ryder Moyes in 16 seconds at 138. Facing the Tigers, Litzsinger won by forfeit, while Haggard beat Andrew Nahlik in an 11-4 decision. Nahlik is one of the top wrestlers for Festus.
Senior John Moseley is back on the mat for the Hawks at 220 after returning from an injury. Moseley pinned Elijah Williams of Festus in 1:02 and captured a 6-4 decision over De Soto’s Hunter Lebel.
“We didn’t know where John stood. He hasn’t wrestled very much,” Mitchell said. “We were excited about that
(De Soto) match. He gets to be part of that group that wins the conference.”
Gavin Alexander (106), Blake Jackson (113), Evan Morris (126), Griffin Ray (145) and Blake Hearst (195) all were 2-0 for the Hawks in the conference tri-meet.
De Soto, Festus, Hillsboro and Windsor will all compete in the Class 3 District 1 tournament in Farmington on Feb. 14-15. The other team in the JCAA, Herculaneum, is in Class 1 District 1. Before districts, the Hawks are in two tough tournaments at the SEMO Tournament in Jackson on Jan. 24-25 and the Bob Georger Classic at De Soto on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
“Beating De Soto was a big step for us,” Mitchell said. “But that’s not the end game. The end of the season is about districts and state.”
Despite the setback to the Hawks, Brown couldn’t agree more with Mitchell about preparing his boys and girls for the postseason. Handing over the conference crown to a school a few miles north isn’t the end of the world for De Soto.
“We always want competition,” Brown said. “You don’t want to run away because the west side of the state is competitive. We were missing some things and went back to fundamental wrestling. Some days you have to raise the intensity level.
“I told the kids I don’t care about the loss; I care about getting better at the end of the year. We’ll see them again this year,” he said.
Brown sees the progress that Festus is making.
“They’re a well-coached team and they always come after us and I told the kids that and they laughed,” Brown said. “Then they almost got beat. They’ve had some great athletes over there.”
The tri-meet was also Senior Night for the Dragons. It was a bittersweet evening for De Soto senior Landon Porter, who spent a grand total of 36 seconds on the mat at 285 after winning by fall over Jordan Jarvis of Hillsboro and winning by forfeit against the Tigers.
Porter committed to McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., before the season began so he could concentrate on filling in the one missing puzzle piece of his brilliant career. Porter has qualified for the Class 3 meet at state at 285 three times and captured two medals, including second place his sophomore year.
“It was a fun night,” Porter said of Senior Night. “The Hillsboro dual will be the one I remember the most even though we lost. The atmosphere was great. The amount of people in the stands was incredible.
“There are three or four matches (against the Hawks) that were even. If we win those, we win the dual by two points. We’re looking forward to districts because that’s where you get to state.”
De Soto seniors Connor Zimmermann and Kameren Brooks qualified for state last year at 138 and 160 respectively, wrestle side by side at 152 and 160 this season and won all four of their matches on Senior Night by fall.
“Connor and Kameren were fantastic,” Brown said. “Connor wasn’t feeling great, but he was pumped up for the matches. Brooks is a little fireball sometimes and when his throws are on, they’re on.”