Kings of the mat crowned in Columbia

JDen Cox won his fourth state wrestling championship Saturday night in Columbia

COLUMBIA --- This was a day of command performances.

Winning one state championship is great.

Winning two is something else.

Winning three, well ... you da' man!

But when you have more state titles (four) on your resume' than career losses (three), you are amazing ... not to mention great, something else and being THE man.

Columbia Hickman's J'Den Cox is all of the above --- and then some. He captured his fourth state title Saturday with a pin over Jefferson City's John Carter in the Class 4 285-pound finals during the Missouri High School Wrestling Championships at Mizzou Arena.

"I'm just blessed; I think what I've done is a blessing for myself, my family and my school," Cox said. "I'm blessed to have been equipped to do it and have the people who have helped me along the way."

Just for fun, Cox --- who finished his high school career mark of 205-3 (all three of his losses came in his freshman season) --- won his championships in four different weight classes.

He becomes just the 22nd wrestler in state history to win four titles; he's just the 13th to have three undefeated seasons.

"It's been a great journey," he said.

He went 56-0 this season, despite weighing around 220 pounds and wrestling guys who were 50-60 pounds heavier than him.

"It's been more fighting with myself to be a better wrestler, knowing that there was a big target on my back, especially this year," said Cox, who will wrestle next year for the Missouri Tigers.

"I've been looking forward to this since I was a little kid, and I've worked really hard to get here."

Meanwhile, Carter finished a splendid season at 43-5, with three of those losses coming to Cox. Most years, Carter would have been on the top step of the podium.

"If J'Den hadn't been there this year," Jays coach Phil Cagle said, "John probably would have won it."


While Cox has a state-championship-to-career-loss-ratio of 4-3, Jaydin Clayton's ratio is even better.

It's 2-0.

The Father Tolton sophomore made it two straight undefeated, championship seasons with a win by fall in 2:15 in the Class 1 132-pound finals.

"I just had to go out there and wrestle my match, and that's what I did," Clayton said. "And I came out with a win."

Yawn. Does he know how to do anything else?

Clayton remains in position to become just the second, four-time undefeated state champion in Missouri history.

He's halfway there.

"Two down," he said with a big smile, "and hopefully two more to go."


Fulton senior Cody Pae had won his first three matches at the state tournament by fall --- all in the first period.

In the finals, however, he actually had to break a sweat.

"He (John Williams, Berkeley) was a little tougher, faster, stronger --- and he was a junior," Pae said. "I'd only been wrestling freshmen so far."

No sweat.

After a scoreless first period, Pae scored an escape and takedown in the second period and held on for a 3-0 win.

"I just had to wear him down some more," Pae said, "make him keep defending, and eventually my offense would open up."

It's time to open up the Pae trophy case and make room for another first-place medal, as he won the 126-pound title in 2012.

"This feels a lot better than last year," he said. "It's a lot more rewarding, because it was lot tougher."

His teammate, Paul Books, didn't have it easy, either.

Books, a junior, missed half of the season after having surgery on his right shoulder. He certainly made the most of his return, however, as he won by fall to secure the title at 170 pounds for the Hornets.

It's not easy to win with two good shoulders, but Books did it with one. The injury suffered playing baseball caused him to miss last fall's football season, and it's still bothering him.

Saturday night, not so much.

"Right now," he said, "it feels really good. No pain."

The championships by Pae and Books helped Fulton finish second in the team race, which was the highest finish for the Hornets since 1981 --- the year Fulton won its lone state title.

"We really had some great kids this season; they worked hard and did everything the right way," Fulton coach Eric Hudson said. "I couldn't be more proud of them."


The Life of Eli now includes a state championship.

Blair Oaks senior Eli Roberts finished a perfect season (48-0) in a perfect way by winning the Class 2 182-pound title.

He'd made this trip to Columbia three other times, but only had one fifth-place medal to show for it.

"I think I just wanted it more; I wanted it bad and I went out there and took it," Roberts said. "It feels awesome. I've been working for this for 12 years and I finally got it."

He plans to play college football this fall. As for wrestling, this is it.

"This was my last-ever competitive match," Roberts said. "I wanted to end it on a high note and I did."


It sure is great when dreams come true.

"I've been dreaming about this since I was little," Fatima senior Ryan Strope, "and to actually go out there and do it, it's an amazing feeling."

Strope's dream became a reality when he claimed the gold at 126 pounds in Class 1 with a 7-1 decision over Justin Rhodes of West Plains.

Strope took a 2-0 lead with a takedown early in the first period, and the lead was just 2-1 late in the third. But in the final 14 seconds, he sealed the verdict with a reverse and a three-point near-fall.

"I felt good where I was. I just waited; I knew my chance to turn him was coming and I got him," he said.

Strope had finished third, second and third the previous three years.

"It was my senior year and my last time to win it," he said, "so I knew I had to do it."

Consider it done.


Seven other area wrestlers fell one win short of the brass ring.

One of those was Helias senior Dylan Linsenbardt, who fell by technical fall to Kearney's Jaret Singh in the Class 3 113-pound finals.

There was no shame in this loss for Linsenbardt, as this was Singh's third straight state championship.

"Heck, he's good," Helias coach Travis Reinsch said of Singh. "Hats off to him --- he's a great wrestler and a good kid.

"Dylan had an amazing tournament to make it to the finals, he had a great season and a great career."

This was Linsdenbardt's third state medal, as he finished fifth the last two years. In addition, he set a new single-season school record this season with 35 pins.

"He's a great kid and a hard worker," Reinsch said. "You can't ask for anything more."

Other area grapplers finishing second were: Cody Huhn, fr., Fatima (Class 1, 106 pounds); Josh McClure, fr., Fulton (Class 2, 106); Logan Mudd, jr., Blair Oaks (Class 1, 138); Sam Crane, jr., Rock Bridge (Class 4, 138); Blake Joiner, jr., Moberly (Class 2, 170); and Kyle Cook, sr., Boonville (Class 2, 220).


In the Class 4 team race, Hickman finished ninth, Rock Bridge was 10th and Jefferson City 13th; in Class 3, Lebanon was 20th and Helias 26th; Mexico was 13th, Moberly 14th, Boonville 22nd and Owensville 25th in Class 2; while Blair Oaks was ninth and Fatima 13th in Class 1.

The team championships were captured by Park Hill (Class 4), Kearney and Neosho (tied for first in Class 3), Oak Grove (Class 2) and Whitfield (Class 1).