Young Lady ‘Cats shine at state
Cassville 8th as a team with one champion
The nerves were palpable for the Cassville girls wrestling team at the 2021 MSHSAA State Championships on March 9, but that did not stop the young Lady Wildcats squad from shining at the season’s biggest tournament.
Cassville took four wrestlers and finished 8th as a team out of the 92 total competing, tallying 46 points. Lebanon won the tournament with 101, Lafayette was second with 81.5 and Washington was third with 61.
Annie Moore took the 112-pound state title, and the other three Lady Wildcats — Kailey Artherton, Hailey Roark and Faith James — all fought back from early losses to be one win away from medaling.
“We have some mixed emotions after it was all said and done, but these girls game me everything they had, and they are a young team,” said Nathan Fortner, Cassville wrestling coach. “This has been an amazing, but also a roller coaster and mentally exhausting to do it in one day, all day long. It’s tough to stay mentally focused, especially at this one-day tournament. if you drop a match, or if you win a match and get tired or banged up, you don’t get to go back to the hotel and recover overnight. Even though we had some losses, we fought all the way back to the blood round, [the last round before securing a placement], with two freshmen and a sophomore.
“That really shows how tough these girls are. There are no easy matches at this level, and hopefully, this motivates them coming into next year.”
Sophomore Annie Moore pinned her way to the 12-pound title, dispatching quarterfinal opponent Josie Moody, of Waynesville, in 59 seconds, then semifinal opponent Aiva Meyer, of Carrollton, in 2:39, and championship opponent Chloe Sheckells, of Staley, in 3:02.
Artherton, a sophomore at 122 pounds, defeated Dyoni Mundy, of Palmyra, by fall in 1:18 in the first round. In the quarterfinals, she lost to Lexi Hatfield, of Staley, the eventual fourth-place finisher, by fall in 2:57, but she bounced back in the consolation quarterfinals, besting Josie Briant, of Lawson by fall in 2:02.
In the match she needed to win for a podium spot, she lost a 7-0 decision to Mikayla Whatley, of North County.
“This was really nerve-wracking, but it was fun to get to experience this and see how many girls have worked so hard to get here, and the excitement on their faces when they win it, like Annie did,” Artherton said. “Last year, I went out quick like I didn’t know how to wrestle, but this year I won some, and I’m proud of how hard I worked this year. To go against the entire state and be one match away from placing is an accomplishment.”
Roark, a 132-pound freshman, was taken down in her first match of the day by Madison Conrad, of Seckman, by fall in 1:04. She also bounced back, fighting for an 11-8 decision over Madison Leverknight, of Winnetonka, in the consolation quarterfinals, but was eliminated by Anna Stephens, of Rock Bridge, by fall in 1:25 in the consolation semifinals.
“I feel good because to even make it to state this year with the changes and restrictions is a big deal,” she said. “I didn’t go two-and-out and got further than I thought I would, so I’m happy with it.”
James, a freshman at 137 pounds, defeated Tatum Levandahl, of Benton, by fall in 0:52 to reach the quarterfinals, but she was ousted by Maria Slaughter, of Holt, the eventual fourth-place finisher, by fall in 0:19.
In the consolation quarterfinals, she found a way and pinned Anmarie Dillon, of Eldon, by in 4:09, but a 9-3 loss to Cassidy Head, of St. Charles, ended her day.
“This was really exciting and met my expectations,” she said. “There were a lot of things mentally I was working through, and I kind of defeated myself, so that’s something I need to work on.”
All three girls that fell in the blood rounds mentioned mental strength as a key to advancing further.
“I was really stressed in the beginning, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Roark said. “I need to train harder in practice and communicate better with my coaches, but I made a lot of good memories [at state].”
“I need to work on not getting into my own head,” Artherton said. “If you get nervous, you forget how to wrestle. I also need to practice harder.”
Fortner said the improvement at the state level will come with two things — time and experience.
“To get to those medal rounds, they just need more experience and time,” he said. “Those little moments can make or break you, and today, they broke us. You could see some of that anxiety and pressure on their faces, so we need to come up with a warmup to calms us down or go to some bigger tournaments next year to try to recreate this atmosphere and ease the pressure.
“But, we were very close, and I hope we set our goals and expectations to be even higher. This was an amazing day for the program, and these girls are obsessed with wrestling.”
The Lady Wildcats brought the most participants to state this year than ever before, which the athletes said they really enjoyed.
“It was a lot of fun spending time with the girls, and it was a good bonding time and experience for all of us,” James said.
“It was really fun to have more girls here, especially just hanging out together and talking about how we were getting ready for this experience,” Artherton said.
Fortner said in the future, he hopes the program continues to turn heads, especially with two and three more years of competition for this year’s qualifiers.
“I think we can be state contenders over the next few years, especially with Annie already winning a state championship,” he said. “And, these other girls got to witness and experience that. They enjoy those moments because this is truly an individual sport, so everyone is watching them.”