COLUMBIA – Four years of wrestling, four years of preparation, four years of sweating in the sauna that is the Hickman High School wrestling room.
All that time and perspiration has paid off for Keith Kimbrough. The Kewpies' senior 145-pounder is making his first trip to the state tournament on Thursday at Mizzou Arena.
Rock Bridge wrestlers competing at the state tournament
- Freshman 103-pounder Quinn Smith (35-6) faces Park Hill freshman John Erneste (37-9) in the first round. Smith, son of MU wrestling coach Brian Smith, is ranked sixth in Class 4. Erneste is ranked fifth.
- Freshman 125 pounder Sam Crane (43-2) faces Hazelwood Central sophomore Joe Shell (24-6) in the first round. Crane is ranked second in Class 4 and is a favorite to make the finals in his weight class.
- Senior 152-pounder Josh Gaskins (32-12) faces Hazelwood Central senior DuShawn Frasier (35-0) in the first round. Gaskins finished fourth at the Class 4, District 3 tournament.
- Junior 171-pounder Harry Schauwecker (32-12) faces seventh-ranked Seckman senior Timothy Niewald (30-11) in the first round. Schauwecker took third at the Class 4, District 3 tournament despite not being seeded entering the tournament.
- Senior 215-pounder Josh Braselton (39-5) faces Pattonville senior Jesse Farmer (37-6) in the first round. Braselton is ranked second in Class 4, and four of his losses are to No. 1 ranked J’den Cox of Hickman. Braselton is expected to win his side of the bracket and face Cox in the championship.
- Senior heavyweight Shawntez “Tez” Hamilton-Wells (21-7) faces Francis Howell senior Brian Paur (29-6) in the first round. Wells will be making his first state tournament appearance after finishing fourth at the Class 4, District 3 tournament. Paur is ranked seventh in Class 4.
Hickman wrestlers at the state tournament
- Sophomore 119-pounder Alex Shea (30-15) faces Jackson senior Jordan Risenbichler (41-5) in the first round. Risenbichler in ranked No. 2 in Class 4. Shea is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Class 4, District 3 tournament.
- Senior 145-pounder Keith Kimbrough (26-18) faces Park Hill senior Preston Crouse in the first round. Kimbrough has lost all four of his matches against the No. 1-ranked Crouse.
- Junior 189-pounder Will Owens (10-4) faces Eureka sophomore Matt McClimens (34-2) in the first round. Owens spent a good portion of the season sidelined by a knee injury. McClimens is ranked fifth ranked in Class 4.
- Sophomore 215-pounder J’den Cox (34-0) faces Francis Howell North senior Sam Stewart (26-17) in the first round. Cox, who is the favorite to win his division and owns No. 1 ranking, is trying for his second straight state title.
At practice, Kimbrough works methodically, peeling wrists and hands off his forearms. Less experienced wrestlers tend to panic in a similar position, but Kimbrough's face is calm, and he constantly keeps his eyes up. His hands search for a route to allow his body to escape, which he eventually does.
Over the past four years, Kimbrough has changed as a wrestler.
“Freshman year was my first year wrestling,” he said. “I was really athletic, but I made a lot of mistakes.”
Kimbrough has worked to correct these mistakes and wants to make sure he doesn’t allow anything to get in his way at the state tournament. Kimbrough said just making state is not enough anymore. He wants to leave a mark on the tournament and win matches no one expects him to win.
He will get a chance to realize that goal in the first round when he faces Preston Crouse, a wrestler from Park Hill who has beaten Kimbrough four times this season. Hickman coach J.D. Coffman said that Kimbrough can learn from his other matches against Crouse. Kimbrough said he has the ability to succeed, especially at such an important tournament.
“I had a couple losing streaks during the season and my confidence was kind of shot,” Kimbrough said. “But I kept (practicing) hard and turned it around, and now I’m wrestling at state.”
Kimbrough talked about what he wants to do at state, but he also allowed himself to remember how he got there.
At the Class 4, District 3 tournament last Saturday, Kimbrough persevered in the match that would determine whether he would finally make it to the state tournament. With the score close heading into the final minute of the third period, Kimbrough quickly sprawled and spun behind Jefferson City's Tanner Frank. In another fluid motion, Kimbrough had Frank's shoulders to the mat, and the referee slammed down his hand, giving Kimbrough a win by fall and a trip to the state tournament.
“Usually after matches I feel pretty good, but I haven’t felt like that ever,” Kimbrough said. “It’s good to be humble, but I was excited, man. My main goal this year was to qualify.”
But the district meet is over, and Kimbrough's focus quickly returned to the state tournament. He has thought over his plans for his first state tournament match, but he is wary of getting too excited.
“I’m going to relax before the match. I don’t want to come in too hyped,” Kimbrough said. “I’m going to make sure to stay on my feet, but there is no specific game plan. I’m just going to react and wrestle.”