Kyle Hurst

Eureka’s Kyle Hurst wrestles in a match last season. Hurst won the Class 4 District 2 championship at 160 pounds in Washington on Saturday.

The Wildcats finished third with 124.5 points at the District 2 championships in Washington on Saturday. Lafayette won the district title with 223 points, followed by CBC with 156. After winning the Class 4 state championship in 2018 and 2019, the Cadets were fourth last season. The Lancers, who compete in the Suburban Conference Yellow pool with Eureka, were fifth at state a year ago while the Wildcats placed 13th.

Nine Eureka wrestlers finished among the top four at Washington to secure sectional berths. Senior Kyle Hurst (160 pounds) and junior William Nelson (220) won district titles for the Wildcats. Freshmen Andrew Stubblefield (third, 113) and Ryan Thornhill (third, 120), sophomore Dahiri Muhundo (third, 126), juniors Ben Harrell (fourth, 152) and Caden Howard (fourth, 285) and seniors David Sweat (third, 170) and Zachary McQueery (second, 182) are the team’s other sectional qualifiers.

“Lafayette and CBC are ranked numbers 2-3 in the state right now. That’s a huge barrier to cross,” Eureka boys head coach Jesse Zeugin said.

Zeugin also noted that after all six of the Wildcats’ state qualifiers from 2020 graduated, the new crop of seniors took over leadership and have done a great job. Like so many other teams around the state, Eureka has had to navigate COVID-19 concerns. But going into sectionals, everyone is healthy.

“This is a year for the ages,” Zeugin said. “Our seniors this year did the right things to stay healthy. We talked a lot about being introverted this year. We got hit one time (early January) and (the coronavirus) took out nine of our guys. We got everyone back in time to get in shape for districts.”

Hurst (14-2) pinned Kirkwood senior Karsen Herr in 44 seconds in the 160 semifinals before winning a 7-1 decision over Lafayette sophomore Gavin Shoulders in the championship.

“He dominated both of his matches and did exactly what we expected him to do,” Zeugin said. “His only losses this year were to returning state medal winners. I don’t think he gave up a real point (during districts).”

In a semifinal match that Zeugin said wasn’t as close as the 3-2 score would indicate, Nelson (16-5) beat Lafayette senior Brandon Keipp before pinning Marquette sophomore Alex Bray in 4:36 in the final. Nelson had already beaten both wrestlers this season. He starts at linebacker during football season.

“He controlled his whole match in the semifinals,” Zeugin said. “He comes from a long line of brothers who wrestled at Eureka. He’s extremely powerful and is a hard worker who loves to compete.”

After winning by fall in the semifinals, McQueery met Lafayette junior Tommy Hagan (35-3) in the 182 championship. Hagan was third in the state at 170 last season and is a two-time state qualifier. He beat McQueery by technical fall 20-4.

“Zach is a hard-nosed kid,” Zeugin said. “I really wish we had him for another year because he’s starting to figure wrestling out. Zach doesn’t wrestle kids by their ranking; he doesn’t allow that stuff to get in his head.”

A good sign for the future of the team is the three Wildcat underclassmen all winning their third-place matches by bonus points. Stubblefield (25-6) won by fall in 4:04, Thornhill (22-3) pinned his opponent in 2:38 and Muhundo in 3:43.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, the Missouri State High School Activities Association moved the state tournaments to Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence. The girls open the five-day event on March 9. Boys Classes 1-4 will compete, one day apiece, from March 10-13, with Class 4 on the last day. 

“Some people don’t like it,” Zeugin said about MSHSAA’s decision. “I’m grateful these kids are getting a chance. Let them lose a wrestling match to go home, not for other reasons. The lack of four people going from sectionals (only the top three qualify) stinks because that’s a big deal to make it to the third-place match. Now they have to win that and it’s like a double-bubble round. But if you would have talked to me at the beginning of the school year, I thought there’s no way we’d get to wrestle.”

Girls sixth at district

The Eureka girls finished sixth with 106.5 points at the District 2 tournament in St. Clair on Feb. 6. Washington won the tournament with 140 points. The Wildcats take six wrestlers to the Sectional 1 tournament in St. Clair on Saturday. The top three wrestlers from each of the 14 weight classes advance to state.

Wildcat sophomore Lilly McCollum, a state qualifier at 103 last season, improved to 26-4 this year after she won a 6-3 decision over Washington sophomore Julia Donnelly for the 102 championship.

Eureka senior Mari Lopez qualified for state at 235 a year ago and is going to sectionals at that weight this season after pinning Rockwood Summit junior Emily Droppelman in 2:13 of the final.

McCollum’s twin sister, Avery, finished fourth at 107. Eureka junior Cora Skaggs lost a 2-0 decision to Rolla sophomore Gracie Skyles in the championship at 112. Skaggs won two decisions to reach the final. The other two Wildcat sectional qualifiers are junior Faith Ruoff, who was third at 142, and sophomore Florida Niyokusenga, third at 174.