Pair of Hornets has two 2018 state champs each in their weights. Two others have one in tournament which begins at 9 a.m. Thursday (Feb. 14, 2019) at Mizzou Arena in Columbia

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Four of Chillicothe High School’s 10 slated participants in this week’s Class 2 Missouri State High School Activities Association Championships wrestling tournament at Columbia have returning state champions in their weight class.
The most-challenging paths to at least a state medal seem to await two CHS underclassmen – junior Colten Sewell at 132 pounds and sophomore Connor Keithley at 120. In both cases, last year’s state champion at that weight is back along with a 2018 title winner at a lighter weight.
Both of those district runnerup Hornets likely will have the tough challenge of facing one of those returning champs in Friday morning’s championship quarterfinals, should the Chillicotheans win their opening-round bouts Thursday morning. Projecting to await Keithley (24-5), if the Hornet maneuvers past opening foe Logan Blickhan (25-13) of Kirksville, is Karter Brink (44-6), a junior from Monett and last year’s winner at 120. In the opposite half of the bracket in 2018 113-pounds winner Sam Hrabovsky of Fulton, who is undefeated.
For Sewell (37-3), who hopes to capture the second state medal of his career after taking fourth at 106 as a freshman, a Thursday morning win over Jalen McKee (31-6) of the St. Louis suburb of University City, probably would set up a championship-quarterfinals meeting with last year’s 132 champion, Jay Strausbaugh (51-1) of Logan-Rogersville. In the other half of the bracket is Joseph Semerad of Monett, who earned the 106-pounds crown as a sophomore a year ago.
The other two CHS wrestlers with a 2018 first-place finisher in their weight division are senior 285-pounder Keegan Valdez and 152-pounds junior Dawson Wheeler.
In Wheeler’s situation, the returning champ is very familiar – Kaden Ehrhardt of fellow Midland Empire Conference member Savannah, who won the 152 division in 2018. Ehrhardt is in the same half of the bracket as Wheeler, but their paths would not intersect until the semifinals, should both win their first two bouts.
For Valdez, the returning title winner – Tyler Curd of Oak Grove – is moving up from 220 pounds a year ago. He also happens to be in the opposite half of the bracket.
Three Chillicothe qualifiers are in weights without either a champion or runnerup from 2018 involved. That trio is senior 220-pounder Matt Callen, sophomore 182-pounds qualifier Donald McCracken, and freshman Aidan Zimmerman at 113.
The other three Hornets have a runnerup from a year ago in their groups. At 106, where CHS has sophomore Sheldon Rader in the field, Tyler Murphy of St. Joseph: Benton took second in 2018 and is in Rader’s half of the draw. At 138, senior Lavery Jones of Chillicothe is in the opposite side of the division from Benton standout Cristian Dixon, the 126-pounds runnerup last February. At 195 pounds, Isaih Kille of the Hornets also is in the other half of the bracket away from 2018 runnerup Chance Richards of Moberly.
Because of this year’s introduction of girls’ wrestling and its integration into the state tournament schedule, tomorrow’s first-round bouts for boys in classes 1 and 2 will commence an hour earlier than in the past at 9 a.m. Likewise, Friday’s action will start an hour ahead of last year, at 8:30 a.m. Both of Saturday’s boys’ sessions will commence a half-hour earlier than last year, at 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. (championship bouts), respectively.
With one of last weekend’s four state-qualifying district tournaments apparently having been shy of having four 106-pounds entries, there is an opening in the state field. That gives one wrestler a first-round bye and scoots Rader’s bout in that division up on the schedule to being one of the eight bouts that simultaneously will begin this year’s state action at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.
Rader (31-14), who took fourth at district, draws a once-beaten district champion, Owen Uhls (51-1) of Fulton, as his first state foe ever. They met in the recent Odessa Invitational Tournament with Uhls taking a technical fall (19-2) in 3:46 and in a dual match during the Spartan Duals at Moberly in mid-December, with Uhls prevailing by pin in 2:11.
Not long after Rader wraps up, ninth grade teammate Zimmerman (16-21) will hit the mat in the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Mizzou Arena for the first of the 113-pounds bouts. He’ll line up against a district champion first, too, in Dalton McNeal (33-10), a sophomore from Ste. Genevieve.
Keithley will have the fourth 120-pounds bout on the docket, going against Blickhan, who he has not met previously. A year ago, as a freshman, Keithley came up one win shy of a state medal at 113 pounds, losing once in overtime and by only two points in the bout that would have clinched a medal.
Sewell, not at his physical best at state last year, as he battled a mid-January knee injury, is hale and hearty this year and having an excellent season.
However, as fate would have it, he’ll have a challenging first-round bout against McKee just to get a crack at Strausbaugh. In a weight division that has 12 of its 16 entries owning 30 or more wins this season, earning a state medal will be a high achievement beyond what it normally might be.
At 138 pounds, state tourney rookie CHS’ Jones (37-9) first will oppose senior Jaelen Woods (34-3) of the north St. Louis suburb of Normandy. Get past him and Jones might have a decent crack at a medal-clinching win in Friday morning’s championship quarterfinals, most likely against senior Blake Schmidt of Southern Boone County. Among Schmidt’s 34 wins in 43 bouts to date was a 145-pounds December win by fall over CHS’ Jake Chapman at Moberly.
At 152, Wheeler (37-10), also at state for the first time, will go against junior Tristan Morris (37-10) of Moberly. Morris was at 160 pounds when his Spartans and Wheeler’s Hornets clashed during the Spartan Duals in December. Morris pinned CHS’ Kaleb Mullikin on that occasion.
Currently 15-13, McCracken’s state debut tomorrow morning will come against junior Evan Shetley (47-5) of Sullivan. Should he be unable to upset Shetley, McCracken probably would take on Andrew Bunn, a 27-25 Bolivar sophomore, in the first round of consolation wrestlebacks later Thursday morning.
Chilli’s Kille enters the 195-pounds competition with the second-fewest previous 2018-19 bouts of anyone in the Class 2 state field. Only senior Isaac Boyd of Ste. Genevieve (1-2) at 220 pounds has had fewer, although one other Class 2 qualifier has the same total as Kille’s 14.
The CHS junior (9-5) will open against another 11th grader, Wesley Merriman (34-11) of Monett, one of southwest Missouri’s premier small-midsize high school programs. An opening win probably would put Kille in against Centralia junior Trevor Bodine (40-4) Friday morning; a loss would mean a midday Thursday elimination clash, most likely with a Potosi opponent with a 35-12 mark at present.
In the 220-pounds division, district runnerup Callen (34-9) draws sophomore Jarrett Kinder (40-6) of Moberly for his first state bout ever. That will be a challenge, since Kinder pinned Callen in 2:54 during December’s dual at Moberly. The winner of their bout will go against a Logan-Rogersville foe with a 45-6 mark who has also has a first-round bye. The Callen-Kinder loser will get a free pass into Friday’s second-round of wrestlebacks because of the bye.
At 285 pounds – often referred to simply as the heavyweight division, Valdez (39-5), in his third trip to state, will open against sophomore Raymond Villalta (29-6) of Monett. That winner figures to face senior Aaron Herman (40-1) of St. Clair in the next round, while the loser projects to need to defeat Keith Davis (25-8), a Kirksville senior, early tomorrow afternoon to survive until Friday.
With 10 state entrants, their program’s second-most ever, the Hornets, by both their talent of some of their most-accomplished qualifiers and the law of averages, figure to produce at least one state medal-winner and seem to have reasonably-good prospects for multiple top-6 finishers (the top six at the state tourney receive medals).
A year ago, CHS settled for one – Kayde Burton’s near-miss in the 182-pounds title bout when he lost in literally the last seconds – with two near-misses (Keithley and Zack Boyles). Two years ago, with 11 possibilities, the Hornets hauled home four medals, including Sewell’s fourth place and then-senior Chase Minnick’s 132-pounds championship.