Zach McNees

Hillsboro senior Zach McNees pins Rockwood Summit junior Brandon Perks at 47 seconds of the championship match at 195 pounds during the Class 3 Sectional 1 tournament on Saturday.

Two weeks after winning the Class 3 District 1 championship, their first ever, the Hawks hosted the Class 3 Sectional 1 meet Saturday and qualified 12 wrestlers for next week’s state tournament at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence. Sending a dozen athletes to the state meet is another first for Hillsboro wrestling.

Team scores weren’t kept for the sectional round – added to the postseason for this year as the state tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – but if they had been, the Hawks would have run away with the title.

The only weight classes Hillsboro won’t compete in at Independence on March 12 are 170 and 182 pounds. Moving the state tournaments from their traditional home in Columbia to Independence also was motivated by the pandemic, as was scaling back the state qualifiers from four at districts to three at sectionals.

Like their cross-county rivals at Seckman, the Hawks feature young, strong, skilled wrestlers developed through the schools’ little league and junior programs. Seckman is sending nine wrestlers to the state Class 4 meet and looking for its fifth team trophy. 

“(Twelve) is the most we’ve sent in the program and that’s always cool for the kids,” Hillsboro head coach Matt Mitchell said. “They’ve been really focused and they trusted in our way of training hard and peaking them. We’re on six weeks now where we wrestled 14 days apart and they’ve done well with it. They’ve set themselves up for success at the state tournament.”

For the second time in a row, 2020 state 106-pound champion Gavin

Alexander, a Hillsboro sophomore, faced Farmington junior Dayton Boyd with a championship on the line at 113 pounds. In the District 1 final, Boyd came away with a 4-2 sudden victory, but Alexander will get the important first-round bye at state after repaying Boyd with a 2-0 decision Saturday. Alexander (45-3) reached the sectional final after handing Webster Groves junior Alex Turley (26-1) his first loss of the season with a 5-4 decision in the semifinals. Turley was fourth in the state at 106 last year.

“I kept my cool and didn’t let the crowd get to me like I did (at districts),” Alexander said. “I came out more battle-tested than he did.”

After claiming district titles, senior Aidan Haggard (120), freshman Sam Richardson (126), junior Dalton Litzsinger (138) and senior Zach McNees (195) were the Hawks’ other sectional champions.

McNees (36-5) pinned all four opponents he met in districts and sectionals. In the sectional final, he planted Rockwood Summit junior Brandon Perks in 47 seconds. This is the third trip to state for McNees.

“I wrestled (Perks) later in the season and I had a game plan and knew what he was going to do,” McNees said. “I worked him and didn’t waste my energy.”

Although the underclassmen on the Hawks are all battle-tested, McNees said it’s been a privilege for him and Haggard to lead them. He said that comes from hard work in the practice room.

“It’s been a ride and an honor to be a senior and be with these amazing underclassmen,” he said. “I’ve taken that role as a leader pretty well. You show them how to act in the community. There’s more to this than wrestling.”

Haggard (36-9) earned his third trip to state when he reached the sectional final and won it with a reversal for the winning points in a 3-1 tiebreaker decision against North County senior Jonathon Coroama, who had lost 5-4 to Haggard in the district final. Coroama beat Haggard in a 13-0 major decision earlier in the season.

“He proved to everyone that (the district result) wasn’t a fluke,” Mitchell said.

Richardson, at 126 pounds, had six matches between districts and sectionals and won five by fall and another by forfeit. He pinned North County’s Amos Littrell in the championship match in the last two tournaments, this time in just 26 seconds.

“He’s a pinner. He’s going to be close to our pin record in a season,” Mitchell said. “He’s really aggressive and he’s benefiting from that freshman mindset.”

In another rematch from a district final, Litzsinger beat Farmington junior Drew Felker 7-0 for first place at 138. Litzsinger won their district match 10-0. A three-time state qualifier, Litzsinger finished third in the state at 132 a year ago. He didn’t allow a point at districts or sectionals. The top of the state podium awaits.

“(Felker) made some adjustments and shut him down early in the match and I told him to go to his next level of offense,” Mitchell said. “If one thing doesn’t work, he goes to the next thing.”

Freshman Aidan Black (second, 106), sophomore Evan Morris (third, 132), sophomore Raymund Barnett (third, 145), sophomore Griffin Ray (second, 152), sophomore Eddie Hines (third, 160), freshman Hunter Rhodes (second, 220) and junior Jordan Jarvis (third, 285) complete Hillsboro’s state lineup card.

Ray was fifth in the state at 138 last year. He lost a 7-3 decision to Mehlville senior Jack Silies in the sectional final. The Panthers were a Class 4 team last season.

“Barnett and Hines pulled off big upsets in those third-place matches,” Mitchell said. “The younger kids have something to prove. They did well and our freshmen are set up well to perform in a couple weeks.”

Tigers qualify two

Festus senior Luke Shaver (45-0) remained unbeaten, gutting out a 5-2 decision over Farmington senior Judd Cunningham for the sectional title at 182. Shaver beat Cunningham 11-3 in the title bout at districts.

Shaver, third in the state at 170 last year, will be joined at Independence by Tiger teammate Austin Neff, a junior and sectional champion at 106. In a bracket with just three wrestlers, Neff took first by pinning Black in 3:44.

De Soto had to wait until 170 pounds to send its first wrestler to the mat with a chance to reach state. Dragon senior Luke Bradley moved to the final at 170 with a 4-0 win in the semifinals before taking Farmington senior Kael Krause to the limit in a 3-2 loss in the final. Bradley had beaten Krause 4-3 for the district title.

In another turnaround rematch from districts, De Soto’s Isaac Foeller beat Rhodes in a 2-1 tiebreaker for the 220-pound sectional crown after Rhodes had beaten Foeller 2-1 in an ultimate tiebreaker.

Dragon junior Timothy Harmon just missed qualifying, losing a 3-2 decision to Hillsboro’s Jarvis in the 285-pound third-place match.

Windsor senior Luke Longtin earned his third trip to state after he finished second at sectionals at 160. Longtin (32-10) lost a 3-1 sudden victory to Rockwood Summit senior Ty Brunk in the final.

Longtin is the only Owl going to state. Windsor freshman Brayden Belding lost in the third-place match at 106, junior Joe Hirst was pinned in his third-place bout at 120 and returning state qualifier Dominic Pona, a senior, finished fourth after losing a 13-8 decision at 170. 

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