It wasn’t quite a perfect end for the Francis Howell wrestling team, but it was pretty close.
At Class 4, District 2 tournament held Feb. 15, Francis Howell finished just behind Fort Zumwalt North to take second place overall. However, the Vikings did very well in getting multiple wrestlers qualified for the Class 4 State Tournament, which will be held at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia on Feb. 20.
Fort Zumwalt North won the team portion of the tournament with 175.5 points. Howell finished in second with 163.5 points.
The Vikings brought 13 wrestlers into the tournament, and eight of them made the cut for the state tournament.
“I was happy that we set ourselves up pretty well for the state tournament,” Coach Kevin Stroh said. “The core part of it is getting there and showing up for district and state. All 13 of our kids made the blood round to go to state and, coming into the weekend, my goal was to have seven or eight kids qualify. We did that, and I really felt we wrestled well.”
Leading the qualifiers for the Vikings were seniors Josh Kyle at 126 pounds and heavyweight Ryan Skillington.
Kyle was the Vikings lone champion he defeated Holt’s Tyler Bierman by tech fall for a 15-0 victory.
For Kyle, winning his third district championship and clinching a fourth straight state in his final season as a Viking was the perfect payoff for the senior, who is headed to the University of Wyoming to wrestle next year.
“It feels pretty good, it’s my fourth trip [to state] and I’m just hoping I can come back with what I want and what I’m going for,” Kyle said. “I wrestled him at the GAC finals this year, so I kind of knew what he was gonna do, so I went into my match knowing that if I just stay on the attack and I just keep going and going, eventually I’ll get the points I need.”
Stroh agreed and called Kyle a “team leader.”
“He’s a kid that does everything right,” Stroh said.
Skillington finished in second place in the heavyweight class after falling to De Smet Jesuit’s Jacobi Jackson 5-2 in the title bout.
“I believe that’s the eighth time that he and Jacobi have wrestled and I think they are 4-4 now so [hopefully] there’s a rematch at the state finals,” Stroh said. “He got us a little bit this time, but hopefully, we can see him at state finals next weekend.”
Remaining qualifiers for the Vikings included Cooper Corley at 106 pounds [third place], JT Roberts at 120 [third place], Hayden Trezek at 145 pounds [third place], Cole Litteken at 195 pounds [second place], and Owen Heslin placed third in the 220-pound class.
As an added bonus, the Vikings got to celebrate another special moment as the team qualified their 300th wrestler for the state tournament in program history.
In the program’s 50 years, Howell has now averaged six wrestlers at state each year.
“It’s really cool,” Stroh said. “To have 300 and to average six [qualifiers] a year is unbelievable.”
This edition of Howell grapplers came into the season less heralded. But thanks in part to big tournament wins such as the GAC Championships on Jan. 11 and the St. Charles West Invitational on Jan. 18, Kyle believes the Vikings are poised to do well at the state tournament in Columbia on Feb. 20.
“I think some guys really came up this year,” Kyle said. ” … We kind of expected them to but didn’t really know how they were going to do, but I think they really have pulled through. I think we just need to stick to the stuff that we know works for us technique-wise and mentally. Every night before we go to bed, just [envisioning] our perfect match and just having faith and belief in ourselves.”