It was the most important match of his life.
Yet no concrete rewards were on the line. No medals or trophies, but something far more coveted.
Only one opponent stood between Dakota Werner and his first-ever state tournament berth in the so-called “bubble match.” It was an unfamiliar foe who was, at the same time, all-too-familiar.
The Warrenton junior stared across the circle at one of his best friends on Saturday afternoon, realizing it was time to put aside emotions and take care of business.
“It’s really nervewracking knowing you’re going to have to wrestle one of your close friends,” said Werner. “I hadn’t ever wrestled him before. If you lose to a close friend, they can always hold that over your head.”
But there would be no disappointment for Werner, who had empathy for his buddy following the match.
“I talked to him, and he wasn’t mad,” reassured Werner. “He promised me a rematch.”
With both his friendship and state berth secure, Werner turned his focus toward the monstrous weekend ahead.
“I’m looking forward to winning and everybody cheering,” said Werner, who says he has never before attended the state meet.
He knows only what his senior teammates have divulged about the heroes welcome given to qualifiers and roaring cheers that beckon from pockets of supporters throughout Mizzou Arena.
Werner, who is 26-14 this season, will join two returning state medalists, J.J. Filipek and Ryan Sherry.
“My mindset is to go out there and wrestle my hardest,” acknowlegded Werner. “I don’t care how far I go as long I know I’ve done my best.”
He’s looking to carry over momentum from a third-place finish during the Class 3 District 2 Tournament at Westminster High School on Saturday.
“Dakota had a great tournament,” said Coach Kevin Fowler. “He wrestled a lot smarter today.”
With the pressure of qualifying lifted, Werner wrestled with confidence during the finals, noticing the vulnerabilities in his opponent’s demeanor.
“I saw he wasn’t warming up before the match, like he thought it was going to be easy breezy,” said Werner. “And when we first got on the mat before we shook hands, I noticed he was shaking a little bit like he was nervous.”
Werner promptly went into attack mode, playing the offensive role. He was still slightly disgusted about having given up a 5-0 lead to Joe Welker during the first round. Had he not, he would have wrestled for first.
“I went out in the first period, took him down and cradled him,” said Werner. “Then in the second period I stacked him up and pinned him.”
Having finished third, Werner will open the state tournament on Thursday against No. 2 seed Johnathan Williams of Neosho.
“I can’t wait,” said Werner. “I waited all week for districts, and it was the slowest week of my life.”
Werner was one of four Warrenton wrestlers to reach the “bubble match.”
Freshmen Dan Filipek, James Bishop and Seth Brierly each fell one win short of a state berth during their first varsity seasons.