Republic’s all-time leader in match wins brought home a third state medal to cap off the team’s season in Columbia. Jonathan O’Connell finished fourth at 145 after earning medals in Class 3 in 2018 and 2019. Wyatt George fell just short of earning a medal at 106, losing by one point in the “bubble match” that determines which wrestlers make the all-state cut.
Republic wrestlers stepped up to Missouri’s biggest classification, Class 4, for the first time this year. Even O’Connell admitted it was a big step up in competition.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think of it as being much different from Class 3. But getting to state, it’s a whole different world. The competition’s a ton better,” O’Connell said. “There are more kids that are determined to get what they want, and even though I was one of those kids, there’s better competition,” O’Connell said after his fourth-place finish. So all in all, I thought I had a decent tournament. It’s not the best, not what I wanted, but I still came out with a medal.”
One indication of the difference in competition is George’s finish, according to coach Jerry Morton.
“Wyatt was close. It was a one-point match there in that bubble round. He was right there all year long, beating good kids,” Morton said. “He was a victim of going up in class. You look at Class 3, kid in finals, we pinned twice this year.”
George finished his season with a 43-6 record. The wrestler who beat him in the quarterfinals, Colton King, went on to win the Class 4 state title. King and the wrestler he beat in the championship match –– Zan Fugitt of Nixa –– were responsible for three of George’s six losses during the season.
In both of O’Connell’s state losses, a small mistake swung the match in his opponent’s favor. In the third place match, O’Connell led until the final ten seconds. Afterward, though, he put the loss in perspective.
“Maybe a split second of sadness. Little things came back to bite me in the butt. I came back, fought, and here I am. I’ll take that,” he said. “It was a good kid, a hard-fought match, came down to the last second — a mistake on my part, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Morton said his two wrestlers performed well, despite falling short of their goals for the weekend.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. I think we wrestled well. Even in the matches we lost, we were close in those matches,” Morton said. “It’s bitter because it’s over for Jon. That will be the last time he wrestles for Republic. We’re going to cheer him on as a Drury Panther.”
O’Connell went into his final tournament knowing the end of his high school career was approaching.
“I’ve been kind of preparing myself for it all weekend. ‘This is my last time doing this, doing that.’ Then before my match, I was like, ‘This will be my last match as a Republic Tiger.’ I don’t think it’s sunk in too deep yet, but I feel like it’s getting there.’
O’Connell finished the season at 53-2. He ended his high school career with 177 wins, the most by a wrestler in Republic history. O’Connell surpassed his friend, Michael Taylor, who broke the record last year.
Morton said O’Connell’s attitude will be his legacy in the Republic wrestling program.
“The hard work, the dedication that you put into something and it pays off. It was tough this year, moving up classes, but he didn’t ever let that get to him,” Morton said. “He just kept chugging along. For years, he’s going to be a kid that other kids look up to. They’ll say, ‘I’ll have a great career, as long as I have something like Jon had.’”
And Morton said the wrestling program will turn the corner without O’Connell and continue to pursue success.
“There are some things to look forward to. We’ve got a couple of young kids coming up. Connor (Sandridge) is a freshman. We’ve got Wyatt back another year. Kids are going to do some stuff in the off-season. We’ll look to keep building.”