Five state wrestling champions from the ring around Springfield — Ozark’s Cody Lindsay and John Oss, Nixa’s Joe Velliquette and, if you stretch the map, Zach Kearney of Reeds Spring and Chase Brennan of Monett — almost had company Saturday night in Columbia.
Not bad was the way Lindsay and Oss described it on Monday, referring to two others that could have joined them atop the podium. One included Kickapoo High School senior Michah Foote, who fell only five points short of becoming the city’s first state wrestling champion since 1999.
“Compared to other schools like in Kansas City,” said Lindsay, a 195-pound champion in Class 4, “they’re used to winning and four to them is, ‘Uh, we just had four.'”
“Yeah,” Oss said. “It would have been even more exciting for us.”
Their comments came hours after Foote said he initially assumed that he disappointed family, friends and supporters. But fortunately for him, by Monday he had come to terms with reality, that he did enjoy a tremendous season.
Foote emerged as a suspense-filled storyline on a weekend full of many — for instance, it took four overtimes to decide Velliquette’s championship match — as the News-Leader coverage area delivered one of its best collective performances in recent years.
A dozen wrestlers placed in the top four and several others medaled as well, impressive considering this conversation does not even include the far western section of southwest Missouri such as Neosho.
“Southwest Missouri was really well-represented,” said Bob Kinloch, the retired Central High School coach, considered the dean of area wrestling. “It’s impressive since when I started (in 1964). The facilities, the competition, it’s really good now.”
Foote almost made Springfield Public Schools history before losing 5-1 to Christian Brothers College Prep’s Tim Grant in the 220-pound championship of Class 4.
But the loss didn’t diminish Foote’s journey, in which he competed first in youth leagues in Kansas City and then walked away from the sport for six years. His latest state run really began only about 13 months ago when he joined the Kickapoo team because his heart went out to coach Billy Buckley.
“One or two of their kids quit on the team, and I just felt bad for Buckley,” Foote said of the school’s 10-year wrestling coach and longtime assistant in football, where he had come to know him. “A couple of my good friends were on the team and told me to join, and I wasn’t sure that he would let me. But he did.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the potential for success buoyed all of the Springfield-area wrestlers. Everybody pulled for each other, Nixa coach Dustin Martin said.
“There were a lot of Springfield-area kids and even Reeds Spring’s 220-pounder. You want all of those kids to win,” Martin said.
“(Foote), he is exciting to watch. He’s got a nasty headlock, and it comes from the left side, which isn’t something you’re used to seeing,” Martin said.
Foote acknowledged that history — of becoming the first SPS state champion wrestler since Kickapoo’s 125-pound Mike Wood in 1999 — was on his mind “a lot.”
“It was a lot of pressure,” Foote said of Saturday. “And I had wrestled him twice before and beaten him” in close matches.
Still, Foote considered it a successful season. He was one of two runners-up, the other being Reeds Spring’s 195-pound Alton Harrell in Class 2.
“I didn’t really think I’d make it this far at first. But I had a good football season, too,” said Foote, a News-Leader All-Ozarks selection as a defensive lineman. “So I’ve just had a good year.”
Meanwhile, Lindsay (39-0), Oss (51-0) and Velliquette (53-4) made for a Christian County trifecta — and intriguing storylines.
Begin with Velliquette, who won it all last year at 106 pounds but jumped four weight classes. He credited his offseason conditioning for readying him this season, and especially on Saturday.
In beating Waynesville’s Lemeul Johnson 1-0 thanks to a tiebreaker — four overtimes couldn’t determine it — Velliquette won what became an eight-minute match. Most impressive, he prevented Johnson from an escape in the two-minute second period.
“It wasn’t too tough,” Velliquette said of jumping up three weight classes. “I hit the weights really hard last summer and had great coaches getting me ready.”
Said Kinloch, who was on hand, “That match between the Nixa kid and the Waynesville kid was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was great.”
Lindsay and Oss finished their senior seasons in style, albeit with less drama. Oss recorded four pins in Columbia. Lindsay won 5-0 in the finals.
But they weren’t alone in bringing home medals.
In Class 4, Kickapoo’s 195-pound Tony Grant placed third and Nixa’s 285-pound Xyah Ra placed fourth.
In Class 3, Branson’s 195-pound Tritton Barnes and Lebanon’s 113-pound Dylan Burns were fourth. In Class 2, Bolivar’s 138-pound Jacob Miles was fourth.
“It means a lot for this area. It shows just how good of competition we have,” Lindsay said. “It’s growing.”