Three Republic wrestlers punched their tickets to the state tournament Saturday with medal-winning performances at the district tournament in Union. Jonathan O’Connell captured his first district championship, defeating Caden Lorenz of Branson in the title match of the 138-pound division.
Jonathan O’Connell, 1st (138)
O’Connell had finished second in the district tournament last year, and ended up losing in the championship match at state to the same wrestler, who graduated in 2018. O’Connell said this year’s district finish “feels so much better… It definitely feels like a weight’s been lifted off,” he said.
O’Connell said having two teammates along with him will help keep the state tournament in perspective.
“It feels like a normal tournament if more people go. It’s going to feel like the Columbia Hickman tournament, because only four of us went,” he said. “Really, it’s just another tournament.”
Michael Taylor, 4th (132)
Michael Taylor, who has already won more matches than any other wrestler in Republic history, added another accomplishment to his distinguished career. He qualified for the state tournament for the fourth time, becoming the first Republic wrestler to do that since Cody Sandridge.
Taylor finished fourth at 132. After advancing to the semifinals, he dropped a 6-2 decision to Kolton Sanders of Neosho. In the “bubble match,” with a trip to State at stake, Taylor pinned Jonah Peters of Willard. In the third place match, he lost a 1-0 decision to Cole Roark of Lebanon.
Despite his frequent experience as a state qualifier, Taylor said he was still nervous for his bubble match.
“You’re worried about getting thrown and being caught on your back, because that’s something that’s really hard to fight off of,” he said.
After qualifying for his fourth state tournament, Taylor said he might have laughed if someone had told him he would accomplish that feat four years ago.
“My freshman year, I didn’t know if I was even good enough to make it that year. I just knew that I had good seniors to push me, and they pushed me well enough to make it there,” he said. “Then I had a good partner come up to be a freshman, and I worked with him a lot, and that’s what got me here––my teammates and my coaches.”
Wyatt George advanced to the state tournament by finishing fourth in the 106-pound division. George won his first two matches to advance to the semifinals, then lost a decision to Kyler Carter of Webb City. In his bubble match, George won a sudden victory in overtime, defeating Hunter Hoffman of Rolla to guarantee his trip to state.
Afterwards, George said he didn’t have time to get nervous as the match entered sudden death. “Your adrenaline’s pumping, and there’s really no nervousness, because you’re just thinking of what you have to do to get past that.”
For George, it will be his first trip to state.
“It means the world to me. I came into the season thinking I could do it, but as we got closer and closer to districts, it kind of became a reality,” he said. “As soon as I ended up losing my semifinals match, I knew that I had to put everything I had put into the season into that one match, and I did it.”
George is the only Tiger wrestler who hasn’t competed at state before. Among the things he’s looking forward to most is a trip to store he’s heard a lot about from previous qualifiers.
“Jonathan and Michael Taylor have told me all about the Walmart trip. We go and get all the food pretty much that we want for state … so that’s one thing I’m looking forward to.”
George, Taylor, and O’Connell will compete at the state tournament at Mizzou Arena February 14-16.