COLUMBIA — For most young wrestlers, competing in the state tournament is the crowning achievement of their season. It is the goal they set for themselves, and the only way to accomplish it is to wrestle as well as they can.
But for others, the state tournament is only the beginning. It signifies the opportunity to leave their mark on an event that has taken place since 1931.
Both Hickman and Rock Bridge have wrestlers who fit in the above categories, and during the opening round of state competition on Thursday at Mizzou Arena, each wrestler tried to prove they wanted more than just an opportunity to compete.
Josh Braselton — the Bruins’ 215-pound senior — won his opening match 9-0 to continue his goal of taking the state crown. Even though Braselton has been to state competition before, his nerves were everything but calm.
“The tunnel is nice and dark, and it’s really nerve-wracking to walk out to all the noise,” Braselton said.
Braselton said he has tried to help teammates who are wrestling in the tournament for the first time. Bruins' 103-pounder Quinn Smith, sporting a bloodied mouth from winning a wrestleback match 9-3, said that Braselton helped him overcome his nervousness going into the tournament.
“He would just talk with me and joke around,” Smith said.
Rock Bridge freshman 125-pounder Sam Crane had little trouble in the first round with an 18-3 technical fall over Hazelwood Central's Joe Shell.
Hickman sophomore J’den Cox won an 18-3 technical fall in the first round at 215 pounds to continue his season-long winning streak. Cox was not the only Kewpie to win his opening match. Junior 189-pounder Will Owens (11-4) pulled off an upset with a 17-8 decision over fifth-ranked Matt McClimens of Eureka. The win puts Owens in prime medal contention, and he is set to wrestle Rockhurst's James Contreras (33-8) on Friday.
Both of the Kewpies’ first-time state qualifiers lost their opening matches, but both also came back to win in the wrestlebacks.
As the result of a bet with Hickman assistant coach Tony Pescaglia, 145-pound senior Keith Kimbrough bleached his hair blond for the event. Kimbrough said that his mother hasn’t seen his new hairdo yet, but he expects her to be surprised.
“My dad wasn’t too surprised when he saw it though,” Kimbrough said with a smile. “When he saw me, he was like, ‘Did you get the mail?’”
Kimbrough was pinned in the first round by top-ranked Preston Crouse of Park Hill but won by a decision in wrestlebacks. Teammate Alex Shea lost 9-3 to No. 2-ranked Jordan Reisenbichler of Jackson in the first round at 119 pounds but also won by decision in wrestlebacks.
After the first round, Seckman leads the tournament's Class 4 team standings with 25.5 points. Francis Howell Central (24.5) is in second followed by Blue Springs (24) and Park Hill (20.5). Lee’s Summit West and Rockhurst are tied for fifth with 15 points. Rock Bridge and Hickman are tied for 20th at 6.5 points.
The quarterfinals of the Class 4 tournament are set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Friday.