By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
NEOSHO, Mo. —
It was practice as usual Monday for the Neosho Wildcats, who won their sixth district championship in a row Saturday night in the Class 3 tournament at Willard.
Neosho goes into the MSHSAA Wrestling Championships, which begin Thursday at Mizzou Arena, with eight district champions.
Four district runners-up and one third-place finisher give the Wildcats opportunities to score points in 13 of the 14 weight classes. First-round pairings pit a district winner against a fourth-place finisher from another district and the runner-up against No. 3.
“The district tournament is merely a steppingstone that gets us to where we want to go,” said Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips, whose teams won the 2010 and 2011 Class 3 championships. “It’s not the destination. It’s part of the journey.
“Our district tournament was one of the most dominant showings during my tenure as head coach,” he said. “We’ve only qualified 13 or 14 on two other occasions, and both of those were topped off with the title. But you don’t score points by taking 13 or 14. You score points by winning matches.”
The Wildcats’ No. 1 seeds include Christian Lopez, who defeated Jordan Moffett of McDonald County 3-1 for the title at 220. Moffett came into the match undefeated, including three victories against Lopez.
Among the Wildcats’ state qualifiers are two freshmen, Kyler Rea at 106 and Johnathan Williams at 113, and four sophomores — Jason Box at 138, Sam Williams at 152, Chance Branstetter at 160 and Ben Elledge at 195.
Neosho’s lineup has just two seniors — Nate Rodriguez at 132 and Lopez. The rest are juniors River Buttram at 120, Dakota McGarrah at 126, Jacob Brock at 182 and Aaron Clardy at 285.
“I appreciate all the support we’ve had from friends and fans of Neosho wrestling,” Phillips said. “It makes a big difference when you have a large group of fans, especially when the rest of the gym is against you.”