Congratulations to Nonnie Justice and Sam East on their state wrestling titles. In this week’s South Cass Tribune we previewed the two’s views on heading to state. Here’s what they had to say.
By Dennis Minich
This weekend seven wrestlers from Harrisonville will join grapplers from throughout Missouri for the state tournament in Columbia. And while the ultimate goal of each athlete is to compete for a gold medal, for two members of the HHS team, nothing short of gold will be acceptable.
Senior Sam East has posted a 35-0 record this season and is the favorite in the 182-pound class. In the first year of sanctioned girls’ wrestling, sophomore Nonnie Justice appears poised to win the first-ever crown at 126 pounds. Justice is 23-0 on the year against girls. She also wrestled in some boys’ competitions, but did not know her record against the guys.
East’s drive comes from coming close to the state title last year. His final record was 43-5 and, in the championship, match he came just two points from topping the state titlist who completed a perfect 49-0 season.
“Coming in second simply motivated me. I was really (ticked) off to come that close. I wrestled all summer. I actually started the week after state. I am now going back to state and I just have to finish it,” he said.
East proved his prowess as he quickly moved through the bracket at the regional tournament.
As the senior leader and the only Wildcat returning to state, East admits he is both a cheerleader and a counselor to his teammates.
“It can get into your head. You line up to march in and you see how big Mizzou Arena is. I have been telling them, don’t get fooled by the big arena and don’t get caught up in all of the fufu stuff. It’s just another tournament so go out and wrestle,” East said.
Joining East in the boys’ action will be Gage Weber, who finished fourth at the regional at 138; Trevor Campbell, the third-place finisher at 195; and Jayme Gray, the third-place winner at 220.
Justice, a seasoned tournament wrestler, has traveled throughout the country in competition since taking up the sport at age four. She said her excitement comes from this being a chance to claim the first-ever girls’ state title.
“I think it is pretty big being the first year,” she said. “The idea of being able to make history is pretty cool.”
She said the atmosphere surrounding the tournament may affect some competitors, but is not worried about it in her case.
“It doesn’t bug me. People are there for the show, so you put on the show. I want to enjoy the experience, but when it is time to wrestle, I will switch,” Justice said.
She won every match in the district tournament by fall, including two in less than 30 seconds. The longest match was the championship round, which lasted an entire 41 seconds.
Justice said, “Coach (Eric) DeVenney always says the only person who can stop me is me so I just have to have the attitude I am unstoppable.”
The other Lady Wildcats headed to Columbia are Alana Lopez, who finished third in the 110-pound class and Melaina Beachner, who finished second at 116.
Justice said she plans nothing special in ways of preparation.
She said, “I just look at it that I have to go do me. What I have been doing is working so I just need to be me.”
For East, the state tournament is a chance for him to make a statement.
“The past two years I was kind of in the shadow of Braeden Danner. He had medaled at state for three years so I was always the second-best wrestler on the team. Now I can come out of the shadow.
“I am going to be aggressive and win,” he said. “Coming back without a gold medal is not an option at this point.”
He was equally confident about Justice with her chance at a title.
“I would be shocked if she doesn’t win the championship. She is out of everyone else’s league,” he said.
The state tournament opens tonight with first round action. The quarterfinal and semifinal rounds are tomorrow and the finals will be held on Saturday.