Taylor Murphey wrestled into the third period for just the second time this season.
The Northwest senior faced St. Clair senior Makayla Johnson for the District 1 championship at 135 pounds at Hillsboro on Saturday and the third period was slipping away when Murphey put Johnson on her back and won by fall with 35 seconds left.
“I am so pumped for state because I’ll get to face (a fourth seed). I’m so excited,” said Murphey, who returns to Mizzou Arena in Columbia for the second annual girls state championships Feb. 20-22.
She made it to the third round of wrestlebacks at 136 last season.
The Northwest girls wrestling team won the District 1 championship with 154 points and will send six wrestlers to state. Northwest hadn’t won a district wrestling title since the boys did in 2009.
“The girls put us back on the team map and rejuvenated the entire sport for the coaching staff, school and community and it was good to win for Lions Nation,” Northwest head coach Ron Wilhelm said.
Murphey has a record of 29-2 and started using a move called the cow catcher this season.
“I used to do a double leg all the time and then I switched to the cow catcher,” she said. “You get them in a headlock and put your arm on their back and then run them to their back. It’s easy to get because some girls go right in. It’s my most effective move right now.”
In the two years of girls wrestling in the state, Murphey holds school records for wins (59) and pins. Before the finals, she had pinned all of her district opponents in the first period.
“(Johnson) was so good. I wrestled her earlier in the season and she put up a good fight,” she said.
Murphey said she’s drawing on last year’s state experience.
“Don’t rush into things and don’t go in too cocky,” she said. “Go at your own pace and do what you know how to do.”
Freshman Lily Shaffrey has been on a big stage before, competing in judo at the Show Me State Games. Shaffrey said her martial arts background helped her immensely when she started wrestling for the Lions junior program in eighth grade.
Shaffrey (35-4) won the district title at 130 pounds with a 6-0 decision against Lafayette sophomore Seraphina Blackmon. Shaffrey’s six points were scored from a takedown, three near-fall points and an escape.
“Judo and wrestling are kind of the same thing,” Shaffrey said. “Wrestling is basically old-style judo. You can throw in both sports. The groundwork is kind of the same. You can do single and double legs in judo. This is a sport I’m going to commit to.”
“She understands body positioning almost better than any boy I’ve ever coached,” Wilhelm said. “She has a mat awareness and calm about her. She’s going to be really special over the next three years.”
Northwest seniors Jillian Ems (35-8, second place, 103 pounds) and Summer Smith (27-16, fourth, 120) and sophomores Keigan Newhouse (20-13, fourth, 166) and Olivia Buckley (32-14, third, 187) give the Lions six state qualifiers. Northwest took three wrestlers to Columbia last year and came in 46th place.
Despite the robust growth in girls wrestling (almost a 40 percent increase this season), there are still gaps on most teams’ rosters. Ems received a bye in the first round before pinning North County sophomore Alexis Pace in the first period. In the semifinals, Ems slipped past Eureka freshman Lilly McCollum in a 6-5 decision. Mehlville freshman Anna Valleroy (34-1) pinned Ems in 2:52 in the championship match.
“I’m ecstatic,” Ems said. “I thought I wrestled very well in this tournament. I’m glad all of my hard work paid off.
“It was a good match,” she said of the finals. “I think when we go at it again at state it will be a little different. She’s a good wrestler but she’s definitely beatable.”
After pinning Rockwood Summit sophomore Luci LaJeuness in the first period, Smith lost by fall in the first to Parkway South freshman Nadia Middendorf in the quarterfinals. But Smith wrestled her way back to medal contention with three straight pins before losing to Middendorf again in the third-place match. It wasn’t a quick pin for Middendorf the second time as she beat Smith in a 9-6 decision.
Like Smith, Newhouse (20-13) wrestled the same girl twice in her bracket at 166. Kirkwood junior Emma Schreiber pinned Newhouse in seven seconds in the quarterfinals, then stuck her again in 15 seconds in the third-place match. Schreiber (30-5) was fourth in the state at 152 last year.
Buckley won her first two matches by fall at 187 before running into Lafayette junior Josette Partney in the semifinals. Partney lost to De Soto’s Jaycee Foeller for the state title at 167 last season and she pinned Buckley at 1:52 before losing by fall to undefeated Ste. Genevieve sophomore Maggie Myracle in the district finals. Buckley pinned her last two opponents in the first period to finish third.
The Lions have almost two weeks to prepare for the state tournament.
“I’ve always said the easiest week of practice is the one leading up to state because you know you’ve accomplished something,” Wilhelm said. “We want to put a girl on our state wall and we will use that as a motivating factor.”