The MSHSAA Class 3 District 1 Sectionals took place this past Saturday, February 27th. The Festus Tigers Varsity team sent four grapplers to the tournament in hopes of qualifying each for State. After facing tough competition, the Tigers managed to get two of the four through to the next round. Head Coach Jason Nahlik commented, “It was bittersweet. I am happy for my two Sectional champions and heart-broken for my two wrestlers that didn’t make it through.”
Wrestling at the 106 lb. weight class, Austin Neff won first place. Neff started the day matched up against Ben Kane from Webster Grove, Neff won the quarterfinal match by pin in 1:02. Next up, he won the semifinal match against Brayden Belding by pin in 3:48. In the finals, Neff matched up against a familiar foe, Hillsboro’s Aiden Black. The two had seen each other earlier in the year and Neff won that match. This time around, things were a little different with a sectional title on the line. It was battle, but Neff won by decision 7-0, and successfully advances to the State Tournament.
We caught up with Neff after the meet to get his thoughts on the day. He mentioned, “It feels pretty good that I made it to State. I’ve been trying to get there for the past three years. I knew I would be facing Aiden in the sectional championship and I already beat him, so I was just determined to do it a 2nd time.”
On what Neff plans to do in preparation for State, he stated, “There will be a few things I’ll work on for State; like my offense and getting out from being on bottom.”
Andrew Nahlik, at 126, did not qualify. He won his quarterfinal match by pin in 13 seconds. However, he lost the semifinal match by medical forfeit, pushing him to the consolation bracket, where he was defeated in the consolation semifinals.
Nahlik has been dealing with a shoulder issue since his Freshman year and unfortunately re-injured the joint two days before the tournament. A. Nahlik said, “We figured that it would be smarter to (go with the) injury forfeit to Richardson of Hillsboro and go through the wrestle backs… instead of wrestling him and possibly making it worse because of how much he likes to use power halves on the right side. But that choice didn’t seem to matter much.” It was a disappointing finish, but still a gutsy performance by the Festus team leader.
At 182, Luke Shaver successfully won first place. He won the quarterfinals against Pacific’s Nickolas Wedemeier by pin in 38 seconds. Shaver was almost toying with Wedemeier for the first 30 seconds, then Luke got in position and it was done. He matched up with Summit’s Caelin Stegmann in the semis after Stegmann took out Hillsboro’s Nick Green in the first round. Stegmann put up a little better fight, but Shaver convincingly pinned him in 2:23 after pulling off a textbook tilt.
In the finals, Shaver met Judd Cunningham on the mat. Cunningham came into Sectionals with a solid 28-6 record on the year. It was a tough battle but in the end Shaver won by decision 5-2. Shaver is now a four-time State Qualifier and will compete at State along with Neff.
Shaver grabbed a 3rd place finish in last year’s State Tournament, wrestling at 170. This year, he will compete at 182lbs. The move up in weight doesn’t seem to bother him on his chances of becoming a State Champion. “Going up a weight class was no problem considering I was 205 during football season, it was hard to cut down to 182,” mentioned Shaver.
After taking first in the sectional meet, we asked Shaver what winning a State Championship means to him. He noted, “It means everything. I’ve worked my whole life for this sport and I’ve put in so much work. I’d love to come back with a first place medal, but even if I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world. This sport has taught me more then just how to win. It has taught me everything about how to be the man I am today.”
Christopher Bentrup, at 220, did not qualify. He lost the quarterfinals, and was eliminated after also losing in the first round of the consolation bracket.
As for Neff and Shaver, they will take the next 10 days to prepare for the big finale… the Missouri State Tournament. This year, it will be held in Independence, MO between March 10th-13th. This gives these two seasoned grapplers time to hone their skills even further, as they look to take on the best wrestlers that Missouri has to offer.