The Maryville wrestling team competed in the Class 2 District 4 Tournament Feb. 14-15 in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
The Class 2 District 4 tournament is held every wrestling season. The district tournament is the second-biggest wrestling event of the year. This multi-round tournament dictates who advances to state and who will have to try again next year. The ’Hounds were able to send six men and had two come out victorious.
The ’Hounds are sending senior Gaven Gray and junior Kieren Watkins to the Missouri Wrestling State Championships. The tournament will take place Feb. 20-22 in Columbia, Missouri, at the University of Missouri.
At districts, Gray placed third in the 170-pound weight class, and Watkins placed fourth in the 195-pound weight class.
Gray punched his ticket to the state tournament with a 4-0 decision. For his last chance to win a state title, he wouldn't have dreamed it any other way, Gray said.
“It feels good going to state,” Gray said. “But there is nothing to celebrate, I still have stuff to accomplish with my season.”
Gray said he is sad his high school athletic career is nearing an end. There's one goal in mind, Gray said, and that's to come home with a medal.
Last season was Gray's first time going to the district championship, where he eventually qualified for state. Gray lost in the bubble round of the state championship. Gray was one match away from wrestling through the gantlet of the consolation bracket and medaling at state.
Although Gray found himself eliminated from the state tournament, his mindset never changed.
“I'm going to rely on my training and staying in the best shape that I can,” Gray said. “For me, mentally, I just gotta go out there and stay confident against whoever my opponent is.”
Watkins isn't new to the grand stage either. He placed second at districts last season, which qualified him for state as well. Watkins saw the same results at the state tournament that his teammate Gray did. Gray made it further than Watkins, who dropped both of his first two matches, which ended his season.
If Watkins wanted to get back to championship contention, he said, he would have to work harder and go compete at every practice, dual and tournament.
“In the weeks following up to districts, I knew I was going to have to outwork everyone else in order to make it on the podium,” Watkins said. “I maintained focus and did some of my best work to continue to improve as a wrestler.”
For Watkins, he couldn't be happier to be back in the position he was in last year, he said. None of this would be possible without a strong support system behind him, he added.
“It feels amazing to have secured a spot at state,” Watkins said. “I am so blessed to have the people in my life to help me and push me to do my best, especially my coaches and fellow teammates.”
For the first-year coach Dallas Barrett, Watkins and Gray are the first athletes that he will take to the state championships. He said that he’s very excited for both wrestlers to have the opportunity to accomplish the goals that they’ve worked for all season.
Barrett said he plans on pushing Watkins and Gray to take what they learned from districts and implement that into practice so both of them can get over that hump of not being a state champion.
“We will continue to work hard and make some adjustments from districts,” Barrett said.
With that, Watkins plans to add to Barrett’s motivation and do what he can do to get himself over that hump.
“Going into the state championship, I am going to work extremely hard and focus on the small, fine details that still need to be fixed,” Watkins said.
Whether it’s Watkins or Gray, Barrett has high expectations for both of them. He’s watched them wrestle for the better part of three months, and he’ll watch them wrestle, win or lose, for the final time this season in Columbia.
“I’m excited to see them perform,” Barrett said. “It's time for their best wrestling of the year.”