NEOSHO, Mo. — Neosho wrestling coach Jeremy Phillips has a rule that prohibits his wrestlers from finishing a match by fall unless they’ve recorded three takedowns.

Cayden Auch, a three-time returning state champion for the Wildcats, took that rule a couple steps further.

The senior tallied 10 takedowns, one reversal and an escape to win by technical fall over Springdale Har-Ber’s Giovanni Caviasca in the 170-pound final Saturday at the 33rd annual Neosho Wrestling Tournament.

Auch, aiming to become the first four-time state champion wrestler in Neosho history this season, was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler after going 5-0 with three pins, one technical fall and one major decision.

“I felt great, felt unstoppable,” Auch said. “Normally this early in the season, not everybody has their motor trained. But my motor is good. I was excited and ready to go. Coach Phillips has helped us a lot with our gas tanks from wrestle-offs till now. That’s why we do the three-takedown rule, so we can work on our gas tanks as well.”

In total, the defending Class 3 state champions Wildcats had six individual champions and nine finalists as they claimed the team title with 263 points in their first competitive event of the season. Farmington was runner-up with 167 points, while Willard (144), Bentonville West (128.5) and Springdale Har-Ber (109) rounded out the top five in the nine-school tournament.

“I’m just happy we got to at least start a season,” Phillips said. “The way things were looking with COVID, to have an opportunity to compete is something to be thankful for. We have great seniors, and something that’s been on my mind a lot is that I don’t want this opportunity to be taken from them, or any of my wrestlers for that matter. But to be able to compete today was a blessing in itself.

“I thought we had overall a very good start. But we can’t stay where we’re at. We’ve got to take our notes as a coaching staff and get back in the practice room to clean up some things, fix things, add things.”

It was also a dominant start to the season for Neosho’s senior 195-pounder Jacob Fry, whose only adversity came just before the start of his finals match when he took to the mat wearing two singlets.

“It was quite a moment when he realized it,” Phillips said, laughing. “He had the singlet on that we were wearing earlier in the day, and I guess he put his finals singlet on over the top of it without realizing. ... There’s a first time for everything.”

After making a quick wardrobe change in the locker room, it was smooth sailing for Fry as he delivered a second-period fall over Farmington’s Kael Krasue. The win punctuated a 5-0 showing for Fry, who was competing in his first wrestling event in two seasons after being sidelined all of last year with an injury he suffered playing football.

“He’s one of those kids, for sure, that works hard to battle back,” Phillips said. “He wrestled well, and he wrestled up (a weight class), too.”

Other tournament champions for Neosho were returning state champion Jeremiah Larson (220), Hayden Crane (132), Eli Zar (145) and Collyn Kivett (152). Wyatt Black (106) Raymond Hembree (113) and Trent Neece (160) each finished runner-up, while Landon Kivett (126) and Eric Holt (182) took third.

ORTIZ PACES MUSTANGS

McDonald County, placing eighth as a team with 95 points, had one individual champion in Blain Ortiz (120), as well as two other finalists in Levi Smith (138) and Samuel Murphy (220).

“We’re a young team and we had three guys in the finals,” McDonald County coach Josh Factor said. “So it was exciting from that standpoint. We have a lot to learn, but we did manage to get a champion there at 120 pounds. Blain Ortiz is just a sophomore for us. He had a great tournament and had falls in each of his matches before the finals.”

Ortiz, the younger brother of former McDonald County state champion Oscar Ortiz, picked up a 10-4 decision in his championship bout against Har-Ber’s Talan Braswell.

The Mustangs have just two seniors who return with wrestling experience this season. The majority of the starting lineup features sophomores and freshmen.

“We just want to continue to get better with each match,” Factor said. “We need the experience and the opportunity to get more matches under our built. I’m pleased with how our guys are fighting. It’s a very good sign that we have a bright future ahead.”

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