Friday's (Feb. 8, 2019) CHS action in the District 4 Tournament at Excelsior Springs highlighted by Mullikin decision over higher-seeded Cameron opponent. Action in state-qualifying tournament continues Saturday


EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. — Through the first couple of rounds of the Class 2 District 4 high school wrestling tournament Friday night (Feb. 8, 2019), the Chillicothe (Mo.) Hornets had 11 of their 14 entrants in the championship semifinals, the other three still alive on the consolation side, and, keyed by one upset win, a slim lead in the team standings.
With, in a couple of cases, two contested wins and in the other nine, either a bye and a win or two byes, Chillicothe ended the first night of the 2-day, state-tournament-qualifying event at Excelsior Springs High School with more than three-fourths of its roster standing one win away from a trip to next week’s state tournament at Columbia.
As a result, the Hornets had 59 team points, two more than Midland Empire Conference champion Cameron and six more than the host ESHS Tigers. Still in contention in fourth place, but several more points back of Excelsior Springs, is St. Joseph: Benton.
Beating two opponents each Friday – all by pin – were Hornets junior 152-pounder Dawson Wheeler and sophomore 182-pounder Donald McCracken.
At the other end of the difficulty spectrum, Chillicothe 195-pounds junior Isaih Kille and freshman Aidan Zimmer at 113 pounds were in Saturday’s championship semifinals without having yet broken a sweat. Due to a low number of entrants at their respective weights, each received first- and quarterfinal-round byes Friday.
The middle ground – an opening bye, followed by a contested conquest – was shared by Chillicothe’s Sheldon Rader (106), Connor Keithley (120), Colten Sewell (132), Lavery Jones (138), Kaleb Mullikin (160), Matt Callen (220), and Keegan Valdez (285).
All of them except Mullikin won their championship-quarterfinals bout by fall – two in the first 2-minutes period and four in the second.
Gaining that many wins by fall helped lift Chillicothe into its minimal team lead as it tries for its first team district crown since the 1980s.
However, Mullikin’s 7-6 decision over Zack Zinkand of Cameron might have been “the win” of the first night for Chillicothe. Senior Zinkand was the No. 4 seed at 35-15 and had pinned the Chillicothean at 4:25 when they met during the Midland Empire Conference Tournament last month.
Even one of those who slipped over to the consolation wrestlebacks aided the team cause before doing so, although he might not have a chance to follow through with other contributions Saturday as the tourney wraps up with action from morning until early evening.
Senior Jake Chapman (145 pounds) not only defeated a Kansas City: Center opponent with a significantly-better won-lost record in the opening round, but did so by a 14-4 major decision. The margin of victory added some bonus scoring for Chillicothe beyond what the win itself was worth.
Unfortunately for Chapman and Chillicothe, a half-minute into his quarterfinals bout against a Cameron opponent who was favored to defeat him, the Hornet sustained an injury which prevented him from continuing.
Chapman would have been due to wrestle once more later Friday, the second round of wrestlebacks, but there were not enough total entrants at the weight to have an opponent for him there, so he technically remained alive in the tourney by virtue of a bye.
CHS’ other two lineup members – freshmen Gage Leamer at 126 pounds and Nick Heldenbrand at 170 – had opening-round byes, lost by fall in the championship quarterfinals, and then had a second-round wrestleback bye to remain in position to score from team points and, facing long odds, perhaps still finish in the top four at their weight and move on to state.
Looking at the prospects for state advancement for the Hornets spending overnight as  championship semifinalists:
At 103 pounds, sophomore Rader (30-12) will have a tough foe to start his Saturday, but, even should he lose that bout, neither of his possible “bubble” round (consolation semifinals) opponents currently has a winning record, so he’d project to have an excellent chance of advancing to at least the third-place bout, where he’d already be assured of his trip to state.
At 113 pounds, where only five athletes are competing, Zimmerman (15-19) will have to take on the top seed in his first bout Saturday. Should he lose that, he’d oppose a junior from Kansas City’s Guadalupe Centers Charter school with an 11-10 record for the right to go to state.
At 120, 2018 state participant Keithley (23-4) will carry a superior record into his championship semifinal against freshman Brecken Gates (34-11) of Cameron, but Gates shaded Keithley 5-4 to win the MEC Tournament title last month in their only prior meeting. Should Keithley lose to Gates again, it would damage Chillicothe’s team title hopes, but the Hornets sophomore still would have only a sub-.500 opponent to beat in the consolation semifinals to qualify for state again. Should he even the score against Gates, 2018 MEC 113-pounds champion Keithley  would figure to oppose an Excelsior Springs freshman who is the weight’s No. 1 seed for the district championship.
At 132, Sewell (36-2) is seeded second to another Excelsior Tiger. To get to potentially face ESHS sophomore Damon Ashworth (38-3), Sewell will need to get the best of Aiden Perry (29-10) of Benton again. He major-decisioned him 8-0 during his run to the MEC tourney title. Should Sewell get upset in his first bout Saturday, he’d likely have to defeat a Kansas City: Center senior with a 29-10 record to punch his ticket to Columbia.
At 138, CHS senior Jones (35-8) has Hunter Williams of Excelsior Springs (27-5) as his championship semifinals opponent. If he wins, he’d almost certainly clash with unbeaten Christian Dixon of Benton for the title early Saturday evening. A loss probably would pit him against a Cameron wrestler with a winning, but less extensive, record with a state trip on the line.
At 152, Wheeler (35-9) will hook up with Excelsior Springs’ Dane Millsap (33-6), to whom he lost 13-3 during the recent Odessa Invitational. in the championship semifinals. If Millsap repeats his win, Wheeler would meet either a Kansas City: St. Pius X wrestler with 31 wins or a Cameron one with 25 victories in a challenging consolation semifinal. The Hornet beat the Cameron wrestler by a major decision during the league tournament, while the SPX grappler had to injury-default to Wheeler there.
At 160, fresh from his score-evening victory over Zinkand and refreshed by a night’s rest, junior Mullikin (22-19) will open Saturday’s action with a clash with top-seeded John Liberto (41-2) of St. Pius X. Should Mullikin lose – Liberto pinned him in the first period during the MEC tourney, it would force him to defeat either a Benton or KC: Lincoln Prep foe, each of who has a much better winning percentage for the season, in the wrestlebacks to secure his trip to state. The Hornet has split two regular-season bouts with the Benton man, each having prevailed by pin.
At 182, McCracken (13-12) has 35-1 Dakwan Zamor of St. Joseph: Lafayette, the No. 1 seed, as his championship-semifinals opponent Saturday. They have not met previously, since McCracken was at 170 pounds during the conference tournament. If the Chillicothean can’t score the big surprise, his consolation-semifinals task to get to state would require him to defeat an opponent with an approximately-.500 record, like his. He has not faced either of them previously.
At 195, Kille will get his first taste of district oompetition after being the only entrant to get two byes, despite being the No. 3 seed. In his first action, the CHS junior (7-4) will go against a Maryville foe, Keiren Watkins (28-10), who pinned him in the first minute of their MEC tourney title bout. If Kille can’t reverse that result, he’d still have a very viable path to state, meeting a wrestler who has not won more than a third of his bouts in the consolation semifinals.
At 220 pounds, Callen, the MEC tourney champion, is the top seed with his 33-8 record. If he can best Excelsior Springs junior Ryan Nedblake (12-14) in his championship semifinal at around midday Saturday, he’ll clinch his first trip to the state tourney. Callen pinned Nedblake at 5:11 of a bout in the Odessa tourney a couple of weeks ago. Should he be surprised, the Hornet would oppose a Savannah foe with a decent record, but who he pinned in the MEC tourney.
The Hornets’ other No. 1 seed, heavyweight Keegan Valdez (38-4) needs only to beat  Marquan Dickerson of KC: Center (7-5) to clinch a third-straight journey to Mizzou Arena and the state tournament. Should he be stunned by Dickerson, his consolation-semifinals opposition would have a sub-.500 season record.
Among the Chillicotheans who open Saturday already on the consolation side of the bracket, Leamer (6-20) at 126 will go against a Lincoln Prep foe with a 24-12 record. If the CHS entrant can survive that all-freshman battle, he’d likely go against a Benton sophomore with a .500 record, but who has pinned and decisioned him previously, for the right to go to state.
Heldenbrand (5-11) at 170 next will meet Dalton Goodwine (13-27) of Savannah. A win there would earn him a meeting with either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, each of whom owns more than 30 wins.
Chapman (13-24), should he manage to be well enough to answer the bell Saturday, likewise would need two wins to reach state. His first task would be to defeat Nick Voss (27-10) of St. Pius X, to whom he lost by only an 8-5 count during the conference tournament. Get by him and either the first or fourth seed would await in the “bubble” round.
Chillicothe’s team-title chances would be greatly enhanced by getting at least four and preferably six entrants into the championship bouts. Another key would be winning as many head-to-head bouts with Cameron or Excelsior Springs foes.would be winning as many head-to-head bouts against Cameron and Excelsior Springs wrestlers.