It was extremely hard to miss Union’s state medalist, Dalton Kuenzel.
Sporting a red mohawk, Kuenzel showed the swagger to back up such a hairstyle by placing third in Class 3 at 160 pounds.
“My friend, Devon Fennessey, and I got together and decided to cut our hair and do it red,” Kuenzel said. “So we did it just for fun. It washes out.”
Kuenzel went 43-8 during his junior season while finishing high on the podium.
“I’m very pleased,” Kuenzel said. “It’s the highlight of my career so far. Hopefully next year I can be No. 1. I would like that.”
Kuenzel posted over half of Union’s 35 team points in the meet. All five Union wrestlers contributed to the team score, but Kuenzel’s 20 team points made a huge difference.
Dalton opened the meet with a pin against Neosho’s Chance Branstetter in 3:45.
But, in the quarterfinals, Kuenzel met his toughest opponent in the state meet.
Kearney’s Blain Drescher held the distinction of being the only wrestler to beat Kuenzel in the state tournament. But Kuenzel was able to get back at Drescher later in the meet.
Drescher took a 7-2 quarterfinal victory over Kuenzel Friday to reach the semifinals. Kuenzel moved into the second round of wrestlebacks.
“I would have to say Drescher was my toughest opponent,” Kuenzel said. “He beat me the first time to go to the semifinals, but I came back to beat him for third place. I was pretty excited about that.”
Faced with fighting back through the wrestleback rounds, Kuenzel made quick work of his next two opponents.
Kuenzel pinned Hillcrest’s Jesse Kerr in 2:08. In the third round of wrestlebacks Friday night, Kuenzel secured a place in the medal rounds with a 2:22 pin of Webb City’s Braden Goff.
Saturday’s bouts weren’t easy. Kuenzel ran into longtime rival Caleb Summers of Washington in the fourth round of wrestlebacks.
Kuenzel won the match, 7-2, to move into the third-place bout.
“Summers is a very good wrestler,” Kuenzel said. “I give him a lot of credit.”
Kuenzel’s final opponent was Drescher. After losing in the semifinals, Drescher defeated Warrensburg’s Jared Alnutt to reach the third-place bout.
Kuenzel took note of what happened in the first match against Drescher and was able to adjust.
Dalton controlled the first two periods and even was able to run a move successfully for the first time.
“I hit a spladle on him,” Kuenzel said. “That was the first time I’ve been able to do that. He’s a great kid. I’ve got to give him a lot of props.”
Kuenzel was able to build up a lead through the first two periods and then hold on for the victory in the third, 6-2.
“Dalton Kuenzel had a great tournament,” Union Head Coach Justin 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.”
Two of Kuenzel’s losses this season came against Class 3 170-pound champion Austin Repp of Pacific.
Other losses came against Francis Howell North’s Jeremiah Reed, Bixby, Okla., wrestler Mason Thompson, St. Charles West’s Casey Bartee, Whitfield’s William Hahn and Rockwood Summit’s Ian McIntosh.
McIntosh won the 160-pound championship. Bartee was the 160-pound winner in Class 2.
Hahn finished third in Class 1 at 160 pounds. Reed reached the third round of wrestlebacks at 170 pounds in Class 4. Thompson qualified for the Oklahoma state tournament.
Kuenzel and Joe Lasky (220) are the only two state qualifiers who can come back for Union next season. Union’s other three qualifiers, Alex Gaebe (138), Fennessey (145) and Cody Pace (152) are seniors this year.