For the first time since 1989, Priory wrestlers went to Columbia for the state tournament and came home with medals.
Senior Tony Kraus placed 5th and junior Greg Rolwes placed 6th in the Class 2 competition, which took place Feb. 16-18 at Mizzou Arena. It was Tony's third state tournament, and Greg's second.
"The difference maker this time was confidence," head coach Steve Rolwes said. "They both knew what to expect. Tony barely missed placing last year, and they both put in a ton of work in the off season."
Tony added that being a senior and knowing it was his last competition also made a difference. "It was do or die," he said.
Both wrestlers qualified for state the week before at the district competition. They spent the week in between going over past matches and evaluating what they could have done better, and taking a more individual approach to drills and exercises. "The last week of practice was really good. They just kept pushing themselves," Coach Rolwes said. Tony also noted that outside of practice, he made sure to get plenty of rest and tried to block out any stress in advance of the tournament.
When they got to state, they both ended up wrestling against competitors they'd lost to earlier in the season. Greg faced two past competitors, one of whom had beat him twice in regular season match-ups but whom he beat in a 1-0 last-minute thriller at state. "In past matches with them, I felt like I was getting really impatient and trying to force things that weren't there, so when wrestling them at state, my main goal was just to stay focused, wrestle smart, and not overthink things," he said. "Just changing my mental approach completely altered how the matches played out."
Mental preparation and stress avoidance were also points Coach Rolwes and Tony made sure to note. "Laughing and exchanging jokes and stories with my coaches and Greg were definitely highlights of the weekend," Tony said, adding that they saw the Lego Batman movie during their downtime. "It helped to distract from the stress of the tournament."
Especially in the later rounds, Coach Rolwes said he saw a heightened intensity from both boys. "They wrestled at a level they hadn't achieved all year," he said. "They weren't going to be denied."
He also noted that because MSHSAA offered online match tracking and live streaming, alumni and parents from past years were able to tune in and see what was happening. He said he heard from many alumni after the tournament who expressed their excitement and offered congratulations for Tony and Greg's accomplishments.
With one more year of wrestling in his future, Greg is already planning for the off season. "I really just want to get as much wrestling in as I can, that way I can perfect all of my moves as well as become more experienced in various situations," he said. "Putting on more muscle is also pretty important for me since most guys in my weight class are significantly stronger."
For Tony, the end of the season was bittersweet. "The whole weekend was very emotional for me. Before my last match, I was holding back tears in the tunnel," he said. "Winning my last match was a privilege, and I'm so happy it worked out that way. I'm going to miss this sport, and the adrenaline it gave me. Possibly one of the greatest feelings in my life was getting my hand raised at the end of a match."