Thirteen wrestling mats hailing from different schools in different states laid back to back on the floor of Hale Arena in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri, where the KC Stampede wrestling tournament took place Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19. Thirty-nine high schools from nine different states competed in one of the most difficult tournaments in the country, according to head wrestling coach Travis Keal.
Wrestlers competed Friday to qualify for the silver or gold bracket competitions that took place Saturday, which resulted in placings up to 15th place. Eight Jaguar wrestlers qualified between the two brackets in their respective weight classes, and all eight placed. In the gold bracket, sophomore Conner Ward placed third in his weight class, senior Seth Burnett placed ninth, junior Dylan Gowin placed 10th and sophomore Hayden Keopke placed 15th. In the silver bracket, sophomore Bryson Markovich placed third, senior Ryan Anderson placed fifth, junior Austin Crocker placed 11th and senior Grant Roach placed 13th.
The team had been trying for the past four years to qualify for the KC Stampede, to face harder competition than the long outgrown Johnson County Classic, according to Keal.
“To finally get into [KC Stampede] helps us be more committed. You’ve got to be committed to work well as a team and a program, so it’s good for us in that way,” Keal said. “It’ll help us for the whole season and to get to state because [KC Stampede] is a national competition, so in almost every match, especially in the gold bracket, [wrestlers were] up against a state champion or a state placer.”
Ward, who placed third in his bracket, attributes the team’s appearance in the KC Stampede to its dedication.
“[Competing at KC Stampede] shows we’ve put in a lot of hard work, and that it’s paying off. I think it’ll give our team a big boost to continue to get better,” Ward said. “The mindset was to come in here and wrestle hard every match and to just compete well with the top guys in the nation.”
The mindset Keal gave the team helped the wrestlers because it gave them a positive outlook no matter the outcome, according to Markovich.
“I feel accomplished that I’m this young doing this well, but I worked hard for this,” Markovich said. “All of my teammates and coaches told me good job, but what made me happiest was my dad congratulating me and giving me a hug.”
Keal summed up the experience with pride for his team.
“Sometimes people don’t want to go seek out and wrestle against the best, and sometimes people just want things to be easy, but these kids don’t,” Keal said. “They battle and wrestle hard whether they’re in gold or in silver [brackets], and a lot of people should be proud of their effort.”