By Dennis Minich
Sam East and Nonnie Justice went to the state wrestling tournament with an all-or-nothing attitude. The Harrisonville duo came away with it all.
East, a senior 182-pounder, won the gold medal in what may be the last match of his career. Justice, a 126-pounder, won the first-ever girls’ title in the class. As a sophomore and a competitor on the national stage, many more matches appear to be in her future.
Last year, East finished second at the state tournament, a motivating factor going into this year’s event.
“A big key for me was to stay confident. I’d been there before, I knew what to expect, and I just wrestled the way I wrestle,” East said.
“The whole weekend progressed according to plan. I was expecting adversity, but it never came. I wrestled my game and things fell into place.”
His season ended with a 39-0 mark and a convincing path through the state tournament field. He won his first match with a pin in just 53 seconds. The next round he got a major decision, 16-0, and his closest match in the tourney was a semifinal, which he won 7-2. He won the championship round 11-1.
He said the post-match activity was surreal.
“It is kind of a blur. You walk on to the floor and they announce your name as state champion and that you are 39-0. The undefeated season and all, it was pretty cool,” he said.
He said Sunday he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“I was pretty tense all weekend, so once it was over it was like all that weight was lifted, but I am sore, I am feeling it,” he said.
East said the bad part of the weekend occurred during the consolation match of the 195-pound class. Friend and teammate Trevor Campbell had lost his first round, but had won his way to the fifth-place medal match. He was winning that match until he broke his arm.
“I was so proud of him, the way he wrestled back. The break was pretty ugly, but he still got a medal,” East said.
Two other Wildcat boys competed, Gage Weber at 138 and Jayme Gray at 220.
On the girls’ side, Justice made quick work of her foes. She spent three days in Columbia for the tournament, but spent less than two minutes total on the mat. After getting a bye in the first round, she dispatched her opponents in 45 seconds, 1:12, and in the final took just 35 seconds to pin her opponent. She finished the season 26-0.
Justice said she is proud of her accomplishment, but equally proud that the competition was held.
“I thought it was all pretty cool. There are a lot of girl wrestlers who won medals who wouldn’t have been able to. They are good wrestlers, but it would be really hard to win state against boys,” she said.
She added that there was some good talent shown, and thinks the sport will expand rapidly.
She said being the first-ever girls state champion in her class will mean a lot to her.
“Right now, I am kind of at a loss for words. It holds a lot of significance and I know there are a lot of girls who would like to be up here where I am, state champion,” she said. Justice is going to celebrate the win by not wrestling for a while.
“I will still work out, but I won’t wrestle for a couple weeks. In two weeks, I will start freestyle practice,” she said.
Harrisonville had two other girls qualify for state, Alana Lopez at 110 and Melania Beachner at 116.