Platte County senior Ben McDaniel looks up after recording the winning takedown in a 160-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Platte County heads to state with 7 qualifiers, hopes for memorable showing

In more familiar format, Pirates finish 3rd in Class 3 District 4 with Walls, Fernandez winning individual titles to lead 6 total finalists in resurgent team effort.
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In a season filled with continuous adversity, Platte County momentarily pushed into first place Saturday on Day 2 of the Class 3 District 4 tournament. The Pirates ultimately couldn’t hold the spot but still came away with an encouraging performance at Kearney High School.

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Platte County sophomore Jake Fernandez tries to break away from Van Horn senior David Lewis during the 220-pound championship match of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

Platte County senior Jaydon Walls (195 pounds) and sophomore Jake Fernandez (220) captured individual titles to lead six total finalists. The Pirates send seven total qualifiers to this week’s Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships — their biggest lot since 2019 after sending just five each of the past two seasons in a dip from the program’s normal standard that coordinated with a frustrating dip in postseason team showings.

After ending up third in the District 4 standings, Platte County now eyes a fitting final run for this year’s senior class, which earned five of the state spots.

“We’ve just been grinding and fighting through,” Platte County senior Ben McDaniel said. “I think it’ll be fun, bouncing energy off each other. We’re a great team, and I think we can do really well.”

While six of the seven will be returning qualifiers, McDaniel turned in perhaps the most meaningful medal-winning effort, reaching the 160-pound final to earn a state debut in his final try. He ended up one win short of a berth each of the past two seasons in vastly different circumstances.

The results were mixed but encouraging for Platte County.

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Platte County senior Jared Parsons records a fall in a 145-pound consolation semifinal in the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

Walls and Fernandez captured their second straight district titles for Platte County, while senior Eli Rocha (138) forfeited a shot at a fourth due to a lingering ankle injury. Pirates sophomore Caden Hulett goes into the 106 state bracket as a No. 2 seed for a second straight year after a loss to the No. 1 seed in Saturday’s final, and senior Blaine Keuhn (170) became a three-time state qualifier as a second-time district finalist and third and final runnerup of the day.

Jared Parsons (145), the fifth senior qualifier, became the only Platte County wrestler to battle back to the third-place match in one of the tournament’s toughest brackets.

“I think we had a great day, getting seven through and six in the finals,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “We’ve just got to take that momentum down there to state, win first round matches and give ourselves the best shot to get the job done down there.”

Platte County entered as a defending district champion but in the old, more familiar format.

In 2021, the state reduced the number teams at districts in effort to mitigate COVID-19 concerns. The Pirates topped a smaller field with the top four individuals advancing to a sectional tournament where no team scores were kept with only eight wrestlers in each bracket.

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Platte County senior Jaydon Walls works for a fall in a 195-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

The traditional district setup used this year more closely aligned with last season’s sectional but featured some big changes.

Bolivar moved out of the quadrant and into District 3, while Grain Valley, Belton and Fort Osage — runnerup to Platte County in District 8 a year ago — all moved up to Class 4. Those were all top teams in 2021’s Sectional 4. However, the realignment included traditional Class 4 state factor Jefferson City (tied for third in 2021) moved down to Class 3 District 4, while top-heavy Hannibal came all the way west and rapidly improving Capital City helped maintain similar depth in the historically competitive field.

A year ago in District 8, Platte County made a big late run with individual titles from Hulett, Parsons, Rocha, Keuhn, Fernandez and Walls to catch and pass Fort Osage. The Pirates sent 12 to Sectional 4 where only two came away with first-place medals. Additionally, only the top three out of Sectional 4 advanced to state to accommodate a unique one-day tournament, rather than the normal three-day event.

Platte County went 0-for-4 in third-place matches, meaning a potential crop of nine ended up reduced to five. McDaniel lost his 152 third-place match a year ago, making this year’s run memorable for him, his coaches and teammates.

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Platte County sophomore Caden Hulett works from the bottom against Kearney freshman Ryder Shelton in the 106-pound final of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

“For him to come back and get to the final, I’m really proud of him, and you know what? He deserves it,” Burress said.

This season, Platte County briefly moved into first place ahead of Jefferson City in the district standings after six semifinal wins and going 10-for-11 overall in Saturday’s late morning round. However, the momentum faded with Parsons earning the lone consolation semifinal victory to guarantee a seventh state spot for the Pirates, who then won only 2 of 5 championship bouts.

Jefferson City went into the medal matches with a slim lead and pulled away, compiling 207 points with 11 qualifiers. Kearney (163½) also came back to clip Platte County for second with the Bulldogs sending eight to Columbia. Smithville (132½), Capital City (122½), Van Horn (121) and Hannibal (118½) followed in the standings with the top seven teams dominating the state berths.

Platte County went into the tournament with 13 wrestlers, and 11 won at least one match. Only junior Mar’Ques Brown (285) — a 2021 sectional qualifier — and sophomore Justin Tiemeyer (113) went 0-2 and were eliminated during Friday’s opening rounds. However, the Pirates were without sophomore Brody Lueders at 126 after he didn’t have time to recover from a recent appendectomy and receive clearance to wrestler. Additionally, Parsons, McDaniel and senior Trevor Scott (182) entered with shoulder concerns, while Rocha hadn’t wrestled in more than two weeks due to his ankle injury suffered in a dual against Smithville and reaggravated at the 50th annual Platte County Invitational. He also missed multiple weeks due to a head injury this season.

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Platte County senior Eli Rocha wrestles Van Horn sophomore Darrius Paige in a Class 3 District 4 138-pound semifinal Saturday at Kearney High School.

At a minimum with Lueders, Platte County likely still finishes second, and Rocha’s decision to injury default the final rather than risk more strain on his ankle made practical sense but cost more potential points. The Pirates have stayed positive throughout an increasingly difficult season, even after losing a shot at a second straight Suburban Conference Blue Division title and coming up just short of a few team goals at District 4.

“We’ve been battling constant illness or injuries,” Walls said. “I think we’ve been sticking together as a team, I think boosting each other up every single match. We’re always at the side of the mat with each other. I think it’s all about energy and being there for your teammates. I think that’s what helped us a lot.

“Overall, I’m happy with how we all performed. I mean obviously there are a couple where I wish we could go back and win those matches.”

McDaniel was the only non-senior from the 2021 group that missed state due to a third-place match loss at sectionals. A year earlier, he lost a lead late in a consolation semifinal at District 4 that kept him from Columbia,

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Platte County senior Ben McDaniel gives a slight pump of his fist after winning a 160-pound semifinal Saturday at Kearney high School to earn his first berth to the Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships.

This time around, McDaniel (25-13) avoided the dramatics despite entering as the No. 4 seed in the 160 bracket. He matched up in the semifinals with top-seeded Jefferson City senior Carter Epemea (22-9), who allowed the match’s opening takedown. A pair of escapes and a two-minute ride in the third period allowed him to send the match to overtime tied 2-2.

In sudden victory, McDaniel secured a winning takedown with 12 seconds on the clock and tiebreakers looming, and the always-soft-spoken mustachioed senior flashed a visible look of relief and a pump of his fist but later downplayed the emotions.

“I’m sure it felt amazing for him but as a teammate and one of his best buddies it just makes me super happy,” Walls said.

In the finals, McDaniel earned a rematch with third-seeded Smithville junior Riley Brown (26-10), a returning state medalist. He won the first bout between the two this year in sudden victory after overcoming an early deficit but this time dominated start to finish in an 11-2 major decision with McDaniel’s only points on escapes.

Despite the loss, McDaniel takes some momentum and needed confidence into his first state tournament.

“I was pretty happy about it, but then again, job’s not finished,” McDaniel said. “Expect the best and just gotta be the best, and that’s what I’m gonna try to do: be the best.”

Parsons will return to state after last year’s rocky postseason. He won the 138 district title but came up a win shy of the third-place match at sectionals after going 2-2 in the 145 bracket and coming up just short of a medal despite a first-round loss and a losing record overall.

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Platte County senior Jared Parsons squares up with Jefferson City junior Joe Kuster in the Class 3 District 4 145-pound third-place match Saturday at Kearney high School.

Back up at 145 as a senior, Parsons (16-10) continually battled right and left shoulder injuries and injury defaulted out of the Lydia’s Lights Blue Springs South Tournament two weeks earlier. He earned the No. 4 seed in a loaded bracket and lost his semifinal by fall to top-seeded Kearney senior and three-time defending state champion Eli Ashcroft (33-3) by first-period fall.

Parsons came back to pin Capital City freshman Jeremiah Austin (21-25) in the second period for the second time in the tournament to punch a return ticket to state. In the third-place match, second-seeded Jefferson City junior Joe Kuster (39-5), coming off a 1-0 semifinal loss to Smithville sophomore Alex Hutchcraft (34-9), earned a 5-0 decision victory while also creating some discomfort in Parsons’ left shoulder — the unbraced one — in the late stages of the third period.

“Not disappointed in that one at all,” Burress said. “We knew he’d probably be the 4 coming out of here, and you know what? He’s going to be a tough out for people down at state. He’s going to give you all he’s got.”

Platte County’s other five finalists were all on the 2021 state team.

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Platte County senior Jaydon Walls works for a pin in a 195-pound semifinal Saturday at Kearney high School.

Walls (32-7) continued his run of postseason dominance and spent a total of just 56 seconds on the mat to top the 195-pound bracket, ironically his first tournament victory of a successful season. He had 15-second and 41-second pins in quarterfinal and semifinal wins to set up a final of the top two wrestlers in Missouri Wrestling’s Class 3 rankings.

However, second-seeded Jefferson City senior Michael Friederich (41-3) defaulted due to a shoulder injury.

“Definitely feels nice to get that first (tournament) win of the season, which is kind of sad,” Walls said. “But that’s hard opponents and getting where I need to go and it’s just not finishing. But I feel like I’m ready to finish, and I’m excited for next weekend.”

A year ago, Walls dominated at District 8 and then toppled previously unbeaten Hunter Newsom of Grain Valley in the 195 Sectional 4 final in what many considered a potential state final preview. A week later, Walls lost in the semifinals to Neosho’s Jeremiah Larson, a two-time defending state champion senior who dropped the championship match to Newsom.

Walls came back to place third for his first state medal. He also qualified as a freshman at 170 as a District 4 runnerup and went 1-2 at state before missing his entire sophomore season due to a shoulder injury.

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Platte County sophomore Jake Fernandez pins Kearney senior Zach Olson in a 220-pound semifinal match during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

“I don’t think I worry about (Walls) at this point,” Burress said. “As long as we wrestle our matches, we’ll be alright.”

While Walls only had to go out to get his hand raised in the finals, Fernandez navigated another deep bracket at 220 as the top seed. He ended up matched up with Kearney senior Zach Olson (35-11) in the semifinals for their third meeting of the season. They split the first two, but Fernandez made it two straight wins by fall in the series, turning and sticking Olson in just 1:33 to reach the championship bout.

Olson won the first matchup by fall in the third period after trailing late in a KC Stampede seventh-place match in December.

In the final, Fernandez (30-8), ranked No. 2 according to Missouri Wrestling, faced off with Van Horn senior David Lewis (32-3, ranked No. 5). They exchanged escapes in the second and third period before Fernandez took a 2-1 lead on a stalling penalty point with 1:11 left in regulation.

Apparently confused on the score, Lewis didn’t attempt much offense in the remainder and said after the 2-1 loss by decision that he thought he had won.

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Platte County senior Eli Rocha shoots in on Van Horn sophomore Darrius Paige in a 138-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament at Kearney High School.

“Very intelligent, and he can follow a game plan,” Burress said of Fernandez, who was a district and sectional champion as a freshman at 182 before going 2-2 at state. “He knows when situations start going his way to make it happen.”

Rocha made the district final for a fourth time in addition to his 2021 sectional title while at 145 pounds.

Back down to 138 and the No. 2 seed, Rocha (13-3) opted to injury default the final to Jefferson City freshman Cameron McKee (36-8), who pinned Smithville senior Ethan Muir (31-12) in the second period of their semifinal after trailing 6-0 and 9-2. All three of Rocha’s losses this year have come due to injury defaults, first a head injury in the Council Bluffs Wrestling Classic in early December and then reaggravating an ankle injury originally suffered in a 5-4 dual win over Muir just over a week ahead of the Platte County Invitational.

Rocha pinned Winnetonka sophomore Tim McCane (20-17) in the quarterfinals and then scored a technically sound 5-1 decision with both takedowns but clear physical limitations against Van Horn sophomore Darrius Paige (31-3) in the semifinals. Paige came back to beat Muir for third.

Rather than chase the district superlative, Rocha took the extra time to rest up for a run at an elusive state final berth and state championship after placing fourth, sixth and third in his previous three state trips.

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Platte County sophomore Caden Hulett turns Van Horn freshman Tristan Paige to his back in a 106-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

“Get a couple more therapy appointments and see if he can get a little bit better for this week,” Burress said.

Hulett also importantly reached the final in the district bracket with the most state contenders but not without dramatics.

Seeded No. 3, Hulett fell behind Van Horn freshman Tristan Paige (25-5) by a score of 6-1 after the first period, giving up an early takedown and ruled to have given up a takedown to his back for two near-fall points in the closing seconds.

Hulett chose the top position to start the second period and turned Paige in a cradle twice — the first time to close the gap to 6-4 and the second to potentially take a 7-6 lead. Instead, he earned the fall with 9 seconds left in the second period.

“I think we saw the growth mentally in that match that he’s been showing all year long,” Burress said. “6-1, last year he would’ve been stomping around and trying to figure out why it’s happening. This year, it was, ‘We’re gonna go top and give us a chance,’ and he took care of business.”

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Platte County senior Blaine Keuhn works for a takedown against William Chrisman senior Nathan Campos in a Class 3 District 4 170-pound semifinal Saturday at Kearney High School.

Paige went on to lose his consolation semifinal to Winnetonka senior John Nguyen (28-8), who owns a win over Hulett this season and eliminated the No. 2 seed with a 2-1 decision. He then lost the third-place match 2-0 to Hannibal sophomore Reign Creech, who is 0-3 against Hulett all time with a loss at state a year ago and twice this year at the Platte County Invitational.

Avoding the dramatics of the consolation side of 106, Hulett (23-12) earned a rematch with top-seeded and Missouri Wrestling top-ranked Kearney freshman Ryder Shelton in the championship match. Shelton improved to 35-3 with an 8-1 decision, but Hulett twice found himself in deep on a shot without being able to finish and looked strong in the top position for most of the second period before allowing a reversal late.

Shelton pinned Hulett early in the first period in the prior meeting during a dual just weeks earlier.

“Much better than last time,” Burress said of Hulett, who finished as Sectional 4 runnerup in 2021 and went 1-2 at state.

Coming off a District 8 championship and Sectional 4 runnerup showing, Keuhn (31-9) again made the district final with a 35-second pin in the 170 quarterfinals and a tight 6-4 decision over William Chrisman senior Nathan Campos in the semifinals. Keuhn collected three takedowns in the matchup with Campos but also picked up three stalling calls, allowing two penalty points in the process but holding on late. This marked his second two-point win over Campos this season with the other coming in the third-place match of the Platte County Invitational.

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Platte County junior Alex Escabi-Fullmer works in a 120-pound consolation match during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

Keuhn earned a chance to avenge one of his two losses from that tournament when he met up with top-seeded Hannibal senior Trevor Wilson (37-3) — a three-time state medalist and defending state champion — in the district final. Wilson, who pinned Keuhn late in the third period of the first meeting, prevailed again but needed just 35 seconds this time. He scored the initial takedown and then took advantage of an over-aggressive shot from second-seeded Keuhn moments later and put him straight to his back for the fall.

Now a three-time state qualifier, Keuhn went 0-2 as a freshman at 152, sat out his sophomore season and made a successful return a year ago, finishing up his junior season with a fifth-place showing in state at 170.

“Took that shot with his arms out, and Wilson was kind of sitting on it and whipped us to our back,” Burress said. “We’ve just got to have a better setup before we attack. It’ll be a really deep bracket (at state), and he’s just got to be ready to go.”

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Platte County junior Draiden Chilcoat works in a 132-pound consolation match during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney high School.

Platte County nearly stole a few extra bids in more open brackets.

Alex Escabi-Fullmer (7-25), a junior transfer from Olathe East, avenged a prior loss to Smithville freshman Dawson Ballard (15-21) in the 120 wrestlebacks. Escabi-Fullmer threw him to his back in a cradle for a first-period fall after having lost their previous meeting by fall during a dual.

Needing just one win to reach for an unexpected state berth, Escabi-Fullmer couldn’t spring another upset and finished 2-2 with losses to the bracket’s runnerup and third-place finisher.

Platte County junior Draiden Chilcoat (15-18), who has been in and out of the lineup for three years and unseated freshman Evan Maccuish at 132 in the lineup late in the season, lost in the opening round but won twice in the consolation side of the bracket — an 11-1 major decision and second-period fall. He eventually wound up in the consolation semifinal but lost by second-period fall against fourth-seeded Van Horn senior Steven Campos (28-8), who went on to finish third.

Bryan Jennings, a junior who beat out freshman Darrell Smith for the 152 spot in the lineup, received the No. 3 seed but suffered a 13-1 loss to Hannibal senior Nathan Messina (13-9) in a quarterfinal. Jennings (17-14) went 1-1 in consolation matches, and two unseeded wrestlers ended up matched up in the third-place match.

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Platte County junior Bryan Jennings works for a pin in a 152-pound consolation match during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

“I’m really proud of all the guys who fought back to the bubble,” Burress said. “Some guys were unexpected.”

Scott nearly made the most improbable overall run. He came out for the team as a first-year senior and eventually won the 182 slot in the lineup from fellow senior Christian Yocklin.

However, Scott went into the postseason with a right shoulder injured in the Platte County Invitational and later causing him to default out of the Blue Springs South Tournament along with Parsons. He rested the past two weeks to make a run, but a redrawn bracket due to a wrestler dropping out of the field late made the path more difficult.

Scott reached the quarterfinals with a pin but lost by second-period fall to second-seeded Kearney sophomore Jak Gist (26-9) as the shoulder injury caused issues. In the consolation side of the bracket, Scott scored a 19-second fall against Smithville freshman Will Sapp (4-22) and held on for a 6-4 win over Hannibal senior Aston Braden (11-15), who lost their previous match by fall at the Platte County Invitational.

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Platte County senior Trevor Scott goes to score a takedown in a 182-pound consolation match during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

After appearing to be close to a pin but instead not even getting near-fall points late in the first period, Scott (11-17) scored his final four points on illegal double-Nelson calls against Braden, who couldn’t come up with a turn late. That sent Scott into a consolation semifinal with fourth-seeded Capital City freshman Matthew Boyer (26-8) that went to the second period scoreless.

Boyer dominated from there and scored the pin in the second period. After having not stepped onto a wrestling mat in a competitive manner prior to the start of practice and having no match experience until the first dual, Scott lost to the second- and third-place finishers at districts while dealing with a shoulder injury requiring a brace and causing noticeable discomfort.

“Trevor Scott comes out as a senior and gives it all he’s got to try and help the team, and I appreciate that,” Burress said.

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Platte County senior Blaine Keuhn holds down William Chrisman senior Nathan Campos in a 170-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Kearney High School.

In 2021, Platte County’s group of five state qualifiers ended up with Rocha (third, 145), Walls (third, 195) and Keuhn (fifth, 170) on the medal stand, and all five winning at least one match. The Pirates were seventh overall in the final team standings, making a push back up the team standings.

Whitfield enters as defending Class 3 state champion and the overwhelming favorite to repeat since moving from Class 1 due to the implementation of the championship factor for private schools prior to the 2020-21 school year. Behind the Warriors, a big crop of teams including dethroned dynasty Neosho, emerging Hillsboro plus Bolivar, Platte County, Kearney, Smithville, Willard and potentially others will battle for the final three team trophies in what should be an unpredictable top 10.

Platte County enters with expectations and potential behind a senior group that has waited four years for the lineup to truly come together. The circumstances haven’t been perfect, but there’s no time left for excuses or what-ifs, especially with a realistic shot at the fourth Class 3 state team trophy in program history and first since back-to-back memorable runnerup finishes in 2015 and 2016 and a third-place showing in 2018.

“I think if you have pressure on you that’s an honor, and you need to step up and defend that honor,” Burress said.

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