The road to the MSHSAA state wrestling championship begins today for 11 area boys teams that will compete in district tournaments over the weekend.
Four district tournaments will be held in each classification. The top four placers at each weight in the districts advance to the state tournament next week in Columbia, Missouri. The opening round for each district tournament will start at 5 p.m. tonight with a second day of wrestling to follow on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.
Defending Class 3 state champion Neosho will headline the District 3 tournament at Willard High School with Webb City, Carl Junction and McDonald County.
The Wildcats, winners of seven team state championships since 2010, are currently ranked No. 1 in their class with three returning state finalists in two-time defending state champion Cayden Auch (152-pound weight class) and runners-up Zane Persinger (285) and Drayke Perry (220).
Carl Junction features three of the top upper-weight wrestlers in Class 3 with Jackson White (182), Jesse Cassatt (195) and Micah Lieberman (285) sporting season records of 40-0, 29-2 and 35-1, respectively.
McDonald County is led by 2018 state champion and two-time finalist Oscar Ortiz (132), as well as two-time qualifier Jack Teague (152). And Webb City boasts a pair of returning qualifiers in seniors Kyler Carter (120) and Josh Copher (126).
In Class 2, defending state champion Monett will be grouped with returning Class 1 runner-up Monett, Nevada and Cassville in the District 3 tournament at Bolivar High School.
Top-ranked Monett features three state champions in Matthew Bahl (126), Karter Brink (132), Joey Semerad (138), plus state runner-up Elias Barrientos (145), three-time medalist Gunnar Bradley (152) and one-time medalist Ethan Umfleet (160).
However, Seneca recently edged Monett for the team title at the Big 8 Conference tournament on Jan. 24 by a 21-point margin, avenging an 11-point dual loss to the Cubs the night before.
The Indians are led by four returning state placers in Kendon Poillard (120), Clayton Swadley (132), Zane Cotten (170) and Grant Durman (285), as well as returning qualifier Skyleer Commons (220). Brady Roark (106) has just one loss in 36 matches as a freshman.
Lane Brooks (120) is a returning state qualifier for Nevada, and Garrett Kritz is the winningest wrestler for Cassville this season with a 33-11 record.
Joplin will be grouped with Carthage in the Class 4 District 3 tournament at Jefferson City High School.
The youthful Eagles team is led by freshman Draven VanGilder, who’s 12-4 on the season at the 182-pound weight class.
The Tigers, who placed 10th in the Class 4 state tournament a year ago, return seven of eight state qualifiers from last season’s team, including defending state champion Kale Schrader (220), Tanner Russow (120), Braxdon Tate (126), Dagan Sappington (132), Kelten Campbell and Brener Ocana (285).
Diamond, competing in the Class 1 District 2 tournament at Versailles High School, returns three of its five state qualifiers from last season in Kolbe Jones (132), John Odom (138) and Cameron Addington (152). Jones was one match away from reaching the podium at last year’s state tourney.
Next week’s state tournament will be held Feb. 20-22 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.