Justus McDaniel didn’t look like a freshman during Saturday’s Class 4A regional wrestling at Buhler.
A takedown and near-fall in the final 13 seconds saw Scott City’s 113-pounder win an exciting 8-5 decision over top-seeded Adam Whitson in the championship finals.
McDaniel is one of four Scott Community High School grapplers who will be competing in the state tournament this weekend in Salina. He will be joined by regional champion Jarret Jurgens (152), silver medalist Wyatt Hayes (160) and third place finisher Kaden Wren (120).
As a team, the Beavers (111) finished fifth behind Abilene (215), Clay Center (137.5), Colby (136.5) and Goodland (115.5).
Head coach Jon Lippelmann knew coming into the weekend that he had four strong prospects to advance to state, but he was hoping for one or two more.
“It’s been two years since we’ve been in 4A, so we don’t get the respect that I feel some of our kids earned,” says Lippelmann. “At the same time, seeds aren’t what win matches. You win medals on the mat.”
McDaniel (15-1), who spent part of the season sidelined due to knee surgery, could only manage a No. 3 seed despite his record. He had no trouble advancing into the finals with a first period pin over Colby Mohr (Abilene) and a 16-0 technical fall against Dacotah Lee (Wamego) in the semi-finals.
The championship match didn’t start out well for McDaniel, who gave up a first period takedown and a reversal in the second period to trail 4-0. Rather than try to score from the bottom in the third period, McDaniel chose to start from his feet.
“I felt I could take him down and hopefully turn him from there,” he explained. “I felt I had a better chance of doing that than being able to turn him a couple of times.”
The strategy paid off as McDaniel not only scored a quick takedown, but was able to take Whitson to his back for a near-fall that tied the match, 4-4.
Whitson got an escape with :42 remaining to retake the lead, 5-4.
After falling behind again, McDaniel said he had to remain aggressive.
“I knew I had to go hard and keep pursuing. I felt he was wearing down, so I had to be stronger and keep going,” McDaniel says.
Once again, the freshman was able to set up a takedown and with :13 on the clock not only took Whitson to the mat, but also had a cradle locked up. That gave McDaniel a brief 6-5 lead, but there was doubt for a moment or two whether he could keep the cradle or whether Whitson might come out on top.
“He didn’t panic,” says Lippelmann. “Even though he was laying on our chest and we were backside down we powered through after a second-and-a-half or two and we were able to put him to his back.”
He was successful in doing just that and collecting two near-fall points at the end of the match for the final three point margin.
The 152-pound championship finals didn’t offer near the excitement as Jurgens dominated in a very routine 10-0 major decision over Conrad Vajnar (Hays).
It was the second time this season the two grapplers had faced each other with Jurgens winning by a 10-3 decision in the quarter-finals of the Rocky Welton Invitational.
“I was confident on my feet because I’d taken him down about five times in the Welton, but I didn’t want him to escape like he did last time,” says the SCHS junior.
It didn’t seem that Vajnar was also aware that Jurgens could score at will on their feet, so he wasn’t too aggressive about trying to escape when on bottom.
Jurgens (29-1) built an early 5-0 lead with a takedown and three-point near-fall in the opening period while nearly getting a fall.
Hayes is Stymied
Hayes knew going into the championship finals at 160-pounds that he would have to find some way to score against a very defensive minded Hunter Mullin (35-2, Clay Center).
The SCHS sophomore was unable to score on his feet, instead giving up four takedowns, in an 8-3 loss to the No. 1 ranked wrestler in state.
Hayes (29-2) took a 1-0 lead with a second period escape, but gave up a pair of takedowns in the period to fall behind 4-2.
Wren Stumbles in Semis
A last second reversal was all that prevented Wren from being the fourth Beaver in the regional finals.
Wren (22-4) was seeded third in the 126-pound division, but was in control of his semi-final match against Trevor Casteel (Abilene). Wren had a 3-0 lead when he took an injury timeout after it felt like his injured shoulder had popped out in the second period. While he was able to continue, he didn’t have full motion in his shoulder and it affected his ability to attack on his feet.
That led to Casteel getting a takedown in the final two seconds of the second period.
Wren, however, was able to ride Casteel for nearly the entire third period before giving up a granby roll and a reversal just ahead of the buzzer.