Justin Cranmer’s goal is to build a strong wrestling program at Union High School.
If the team’s performance at the MSHSAA Championships last weekend is any indication, he’s well on the way to that goal.
Union scored 35 points in the Class 3 competition to tie for 17th place in the event.
“That was a big improvement over the three points and 43rd-place finish last year,” Cranmer said. “We are moving in the right direction as a program. Next year we could have a few state medalists and move up even more in the state standings.”
Of Union’s five wrestlers, one, junior Dalton Kuenzel, stepped onto the medal stand on the final day. He finished third in the 160-pound weight class while scoring 20 of Union’s 35 team points.
All five of Union’s wrestlers contributed to the team score as each won at least one match in the state meet.
Senior Alex Gaebe (138) reached the third round of wrestlebacks before losing on a tiebreaker.
Seniors Devon Fennessey (145), Cody Pace (152) and junior Joe Lasky (220) each reached the second round of wrestlebacks.
Union’s standout was Kuenzel, who placed third as a junior.
“Dalton Kuenzel had a great tournament,” Cranmer said. “He lost to (Blain) Drescher from Kearney in the quarterfinals but wrestled all the way back to the third-place match and beat him for third. Drescher was second in state last year (at 160) so it was a great win for Dalton. Four out of his seven losses this year have come from state champions.”
Sporting a red mohawk, Kuenzel opened the meet by pinning Neosho’s Chance Branstetter in 3:45.
In the quarterfinals, Kuenzel ran into Blain Drescher of Kearney, losing by a 7-2 decision. Kuenzel learned from this experience and the two ended up meeting again later in the tournament.
Moving into the wrestlebacks, Kuenzel took care of business with a pair of pins to reach the medal rounds.
Kuenzel pinned Hillcrest’s Jesse Kerr in 2:08 and then knocked out Webb City’s Brayden Goff in 2:22.
Competing in the fourth round of wrestlebacks, Kuenzel paired up with Washington’s Caleb Summers in a bout of local wrestlers.
This time, Kuenzel won, 7-2, to set up a rematch with Drescher in the third-place bout.
Seeing Drescher for a second time, Kuenzel controlled most of the match to emerge with a 6-2 victory and the third-place medal and a 43-8 final record.
Gaebe finished his senior season at 46-7 and opened with a 9-1 major decision over Neosho’s Jason Box.
In the quarterfinals, Gaebe lost an 8-5 decision to eventual fourth-place finisher Grant Sachs of Ladue.
Gaebe bounced back to eliminate Sikeston’s Jacob Stinnett by a 12-0 major decision in the second round of wrestlebacks.
But Connar Loderhose of Willard, the eventual sixth-place finisher, knocked out Gaebe with a 7-3 tiebreaker victory.
“Alex Gaebe lost his quarterfinal match but wrestled all the way back to the bubble match to place and lost in double overtime,” Cranmer said. “He wrestled great to get there but just could not hold on for the win in overtime. That was a heartbreaking loss. Alex is such a hard worker and good kid. We were both pretty upset when he lost.”
Fennessey reached the second round of wrestlebacks. He finished the season at 48-7.
Fennessey opened by pinning Carthage’s Tommy Bradshaw in 40 seconds.
In the quarterfinals, Fennessey lost a 13-5 major decision to Ft. Zumwalt South’s Nic Smith. Smith went on to finish fourth.
In the second round of wrestlebacks, Warrensburg’s James Culp picked up a 13-6 decision over Fennessey. Culp went on to place third.
Pace lost his opener to Oak Park’s Dominic Cervantes by a pin in 3:43.
After that, Pace pinned Westminster Christian’s Keegan Brown in 1:43, but then lost an 11-2 major decision to Carl Junction’s Nick Koon in the second round of wrestlebacks.
Koon went on to place sixth.
Pace finished the year with a 49-9 record.
Union’s other junior, Joe Lasky, exited the tournament via injury.
Lasky opened the tournament with a loss to McDonald County’s Jordan Moffett, the eventual runner-up, in 2:55. Moffett lost in the title bout on ultimate tiebreaker.
Lasky bounced back to pin Westminster Christian’s Wes Park in 4:38.
However, midway through his match against McCluer’s Di’ontay Hatch, Lasky suffered a severe ankle injury and had to default out of the match at the 2:36 mark.
Hatch went on to place sixth.
Lasky finished the season at 39-17.
“Joe Lasky really wrestled well too,” Cranmer said. “He lost in the first round to Jordan Moffett from McDonald County who finished second. Then he pinned in the wrestlebacks. He was wrestling a close match in the second-round wrestleback match when he sprained and broke his ankle. I really think he had a good shot at winning that match and placing before he injury defaulted.”