With one state champion (Dalton Kuenzel) and a sixth-place finisher (Joe Lasky), it was a year for the record books in the Union High School wrestling program.
The Wildcats scored 42 points to place 12th in Class 3 an the MSHSAA Wrestling Championships, which concluded Saturday night at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“I thought we wrestled great at the state tournament,” Union Head Coach Justin Cranmer said. “If you would have told me before the season started that we would have a state champion and another medalist at the end of the year I would have been a very happy coach.”
Kuenzel hopes this year’s state run can help to inspire younger wrestlers.
“I think this is going to be a confidence booster for all of the younger kids coming up,” Kuenzel said. “It shows that no matter where you start, you can always finish higher than where you began.”
Lasky said the program is on solid ground.
“We had a great team last year,” Lasky said. “We graduated a lot of good seniors. We came back this year and brought in good freshmen. We’re definitely a program on the rise. We’ve got a lot of young kids coming up. We have solid freshmen and sophomores.”
Both Kuenzel and Lasky are scheduled to wrestle in the senior national tournament in Virginia Beach, Va., March 27-30. Kuenzel will compete in the East-West All-Star Meet in Edwardsville, Ill., March 24.
Union had four qualified wrestlers and three who actually competed. Two of those three ended on the podium.
Kuenzel (182) is Union’s second state champion. Mat Machelett won the Class 3A heavyweight title in 1992, edging Neosho’s Russell Lewis, 5-3, to claim the crown.
“Dalton could not have wrestled any better at the state meet,” Cranmer said. “He scored the maximum amount of team points allowed at the state tournament because he pinned all four of his opponents.”
The last Union wrestler to compete in a title match was Jimmy Barnhart (215), who finished second in Class 2 at his weight class in 2009.
This season, Kuenzel capped off a 46-2 season Saturday night with his fourth pin in a row, a 3:05 win over Winnetonka’s Markel Fluker.
Near the midway point of the match, Kunezel trailed 3-0 when he found an opening and quickly put Fluker on his back for the victory.
To reach the finals, Kuenzel:
• Pinned Branson’s Christian Robertson in 2:11;
• Pinned Grain Valley’s Joey Sodano in 0:45; and
• Pinned Willard’s Hunter Yeargan in 5:20.
In the semifinal match, Kuenzel was involved in a close match until he found an opening and earned the pin.
A story on Kuenzel can be found elsewhere in this section.
Lasky (220) finished off a comeback season, earning a state medal by finishing sixth. It was a far better ending for Lasky than last year’s state tournament, when he was knocked out with a broken ankle.
“Last year, I broke my ankle,” Lasky said. “This year, I was pretty excited. My goal the whole season was to medal here. I got through and made it.”
Cranmer credited Lasky for picking up key wins to make the podium.
“Joe wrestled amazing at both the district and state tournament,” Cranmer said. “He beat a very tough kid from Staley first round. He lost to the eventual state champion from Hannibal in the quarterfinals but bounced back and won two tough matches to get to the medal rounds.”
After starting the season at 285, Lasky trimmed down to his fighting weight in the 220-pound weight class and recorded a 32-10 season.
“I wrestled at 220 last year, so I ended up cutting back down,” Lasky said. “I started the season at 250. I had to cut weight over all of Christmas break. It was terrible, but it was definitely worth it to be on the podium with some hardware around my neck.”
In his state opener, Lasky pinned Staley’s Logan Shinneman in 5:52.
But, in the quarterfinals, Lasky dropped an 8-0 decision to Hannibal’s Kyle Muehring, the eventual state champion.
Going into the wrestleback bracket, Lasky then pinned Chaminade’s Craman Mays in 2:23 and earned a 6-4 decision over Marshfield’s Micah Ragsdale to reach the medal rounds.
In the fourth-round wrestlebacks Saturday morning, Neosho’s Ben Elledge edged Lasky, 6-5. Elledge placed fourth.
Kearney’s Tyler Horton pinned Lasky in the fifth-place bout in 1:43.
“I’ve only been wrestling for two years,” Lasky said. “I was lucky I was able to get here with my coach helping after only wrestling for two years.”
Lasky is a three-sport standout with the Wildcats.
“I love wrestling for Union,” Lasky said. “I also do football and track. I love the town and all of the people in it.”
Lasky indicated he’s looking for the opportunity to play football in college, but would consider an offer
Two Union freshmen also got to experience the state meet.
Freshman Dylan Ahern (170) went 1-2 in the state meet to finish the season at 26-20.
“Dylan Ahern also wrestled well,” Cranmer said. “He won a match in the first round of wrestlebacks and I think he learned a lot from the experience and is even more hungry to win a state medal next year.”
Ahern opened with a 12-4 major decision setback against Dalton Lewis of Kearney, who wound up taking sixth.
Ahern knocked out Hannibal’s Austin Hawes, 13-8.
The meet finished for Ahern in a 33-second pin against Ft. Zumwalt North’s Levi Kessels, the third-place finisher in the weight class.
Union’s other freshman, Dawson Sickmeier (106) officially forfeited his two state matches to Willard’s Nikolas Chavez and Ladue’s Justin Espinosa.
Sickmeier (30-16) suffered a concussion in the third-place bout of the district tournament the previous Saturday in Farmington and was not cleared to compete at the state meet.