Maryville wrestling ended its season at the MSHSAA State Championships Feb. 20-22 in Columbia, Missouri, at Mizzou Arena.
Under first-year coach Dallas Barrett, the 'Hounds finished the MSHSAA State Championships by ranking eighth in Class 2 with a total 16 team points. They finished 29th overall in the team rankings.
For Barrett, the trip to Mizzou Arena was his first since he reached the tournament in high school. That, he said, was a good feeling.
“I’m still soaking it in,” Barrett said. “It's my first time being there since 2006. I had a great time with some great kids and families that accompanied us.”
"Barrett's trip was accompanied by two wrestlers from the team: senior Gaven Gray and junior Kieren Watkins."
No matter the results, the tournament would be some of the last matches that Gray would wrestle in his career.
“It was really special for me,” Gray said. “That was my first time placing, and I’m glad I got to end my wrestling career like that.”
Gray started the tournament with a pin in his first match. A win gave Gray the rest of the day off to await the second day of action.
For Gray to be a state champion, of course, he had to win four more matches in a row. He had to win two more in a row to guarantee that he placed.
“After the match I knew it wasn't anything to celebrate,” Gray said. “I wanted to maintain my focus and get ready for my next match.It felt good going out there and dominating my first opponent at state like that.”
In the quarterfinals, Gray found himself down 10-2 going into the second period of his match. The tall task that the deficit presented was what stood between Gray and the semifinals.
“I knew I needed something big,” Gray said. “I didn’t think he was better than me; I just wasn’t wrestling good. So when he took a shot, I just set up my move and caught him with it.”
Barrett said he had all of his confidence in Gray and knew if he wrestled his brand of wrestling, he could be dangerous and overcome the 8-point deficit.
“I really just wanted him to keep composed and work his stuff,” Barrett said. “Gaven has a high wrestling IQ so no one is ever safe with a lead. He saw the opportunity and made his opponent pay for making the smallest of mistakes.”
In the second period of the match, Gray’s plan was to get points and start making a comeback. His plan was spoiled when his opponent presented the opportunity for a pin. The comeback was mounted when Gray took advantage of that opportunity and won the match.
“The coaches were pumped after that match,” Gray said. “We knew I had to wrestle better but they told me, ‘It's not about what mistakes you made; it’s about how you capitalize on their mistakes,’ and that’s what I did.”
After the win, Gray dropped his next match. That put him in the consolation bracket, meaning he could still medal but not be a state champion. His tournament run, and career, came to an end with an eventual fifth-place medal.
For Watkins, his state run started off in the opposite direction of where he would have liked it to, dropping his first match to eventual state champion senior Kaden Dillion of Eldon High school.
Following the loss to Dillion, Watkins won a match in the consolation bracket. On the heels of that victory came a defeat that ended Watkins' season.
“After the disappointing end to my season, I learned what I am going to have to do going into next season,” Watkins said
With one season under his belt, Barrett and assistant coach Howard Dumke will get right back to work in preparation for next season. The next few weeks, Barrett said, will be spent scheduling off-season workouts and camps.
The program, Barrett said, is at the beginning of its journey.
“No one is content,” Barrett said. “Everyone wants to continue to improve how we do things.”