The Fulton Hornets were able to use their trio of medalists as a source of solace.
Fulton closed out the 81st MSHSAA Wrestling Championships on Saturday by collecting three individual medals at Mizzou Arena. Senior Ryan Fritz took third place at 171 pounds in Class 2, while sophomore Cody Pae came in fifth at 125 and senior Josh Curtis finished sixth at 140.
The Hornets extended their streak to six years in which they have produced at least one state medalist.
"It wasn't so long ago that we were having one medalist, and we were excited as we could be about that," Fulton head coach Eric Hudson said. "That's just kind of where the program was; to bring home three medals in spite of everything that really didn't go our way, it still feels pretty good."
Fulton entered the state championships with nine qualifiers and legitimate prospects to be in the running for a team trophy by finishing in the top five. However, the Hornets wound up in 10th place in Class 2 with 62 points.
Oak Grove easily captured the Class 2 team title with 138 points. Two of Fulton's North Central Missouri Conference adversaries - Kirksville and Mexico - came in second and third, respectively, with 111.5 and 94 points.
"Anything that could have gone wrong, just about went wrong," Hudson said. "We were going to have to have a very good tournament to bring home a trophy. We just didn't have it. This is the first time where we really haven't wrestled well.
"I don't know if it was nerves or what it was. For whatever reason, we didn't have it. Most of the (kids) looked back and they competed well, but they just didn't wrestle really well. Maybe the other kids were just better than us. It's hard for me to say at this point."
Fulton's chances at a strong team finish took a significant hit when five of its wrestlers - Fritz, Pae, Curtis, sophomore Drew Benner at 145 pounds and junior Zack McClure at 130 - all lost in Friday morning's quarterfinals.
"The kids were a little low, but I think everybody felt like they could wrestle back through," Hudson said. "I don't think anybody really started checking out, thinking that they were done."
Fritz - who was dealing with a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee - pinned Bolivar junior Aaron Allen in 1 minute, 52 seconds in his third-place victory at 171 pounds.
Fritz was forced to work his way back through the bracket after being roughed up by St. Clair senior Ryan Belitz, the eventual state champion, in a 15-0 technical fall in the quarterfinals. Fritz began the process by swiftly pinning John Burroughs sophomore Christian Bledsoe in just :43 in second-round wrestlebacks.
In third-round wrestlebacks Friday night, Fritz moved on with a 9-0 major decision over Kirksville senior Dylan Kriegshauser. Fritz then followed that up with an 11-3 major decision over Harrisonville senior Jasen Mcgee in fourth-round wrestlebacks Friday morning.
A three-time qualifier, Fritz completed the season with a 34-2 record. He also placed third at 160 pounds in 2010 and fourth at 152 in 2009.
"Ryan's a fantastic competitor," Hudson said. "... He did a fantastic job and I'm very proud of him. I'm proud of the way he handled things."
Pae picked up his fifth-place win at 125 pounds by putting together an impressive 16-1 technical fall over Odessa sophomore Nate Leonard.
After being pinned by Excelsior Springs junior Cooper Gardner - the eventual state runner-up - in 1:11 in the quarterfinals, Pae crafted a quick :31 pinfall victory over Ste. Genevieve junior Wes Leclere in second-round wrestlebacks.
Pae then pinned Affton senior Matt Arnold in 2:27 in third-round wrestlebacks, but lost a 7-0 decision to Senecca senior Colbey Skaggs in fourth-round wrestlebacks.
Making his second appearance at the state championships, Pae finished the season with a 39-7 mark.
"Cody's a tough kid and I think his future is bright," Hudson said. "... Hopefully next year he'll take more of a leadership position with the team and lead by example."
Meanwhile, Curtis was pinned by Moberly senior Tahlor Fowlkes in 3:43 in the fifth-place match at 140 pounds.
Following a 2:41 pinfall loss in the quarterfinals to Oak Grove sophomore Taylor Brinegar, who eventually took third, Curtis rebounded by edging St. Clair senior Mike Rodgers with a 6-5 decision in second-round wrestlebacks.
Curtis then posted a 10-2 major decision over Windsor (Imperial) sophomore Tyler Warren in third-round wrestlebacks, but was pinned by Benton freshman Tyler McNutt in 4:17 in fourth-round wrestlebacks.
Also a three-time qualifier, Curtis medalled for the first time and finished the season with a 25-5 record.
"I think when Josh gets a little bit older and he looks back, and he looks at that medal, he'll say, "I'm glad I did that,'" Hudson said. "... He's a fantastic technical wrestler."
Hudson expected Benner - who had been bothered by a lower back injury since late January - and McClure to be strong contenders for state medalists. However, both were surprisingly eliminated in third-round wrestlebacks.
Benner - a state champion at 135 pounds in 2010 - exited after a 6-4 loss to Kirksville junior Chris Hooper, who also handed Benner his first loss of the season in the district semifinals on Feb. 12. McClure bowed out after dropping a 4-2 decision to Seneca senior Timothy Harnar.
After being pinned by Monett senior Ethan Davis - the eventual state champion at 145 pounds - in a fast :38 in the quarterfinals, Benner regrouped by producing a 10-1 major decision over Grain Valley junior Brad Sodano in second-round wrestlebacks.
McClure fell to Cameron junior Adam McMain, the eventual state runner-up at 130 pounds, in a 13-8 decision in the quarterfinals. McClure then turned back Clinton freshman Joshua Ryan in a 6-5 decision in the second-round wrestlebacks.
A two-time qualifier, Benner ended the season with a 35-3 record. McClure - a three-time qualifier who also placed sixth at 119 pounds in 2010 - finished with a 34-7 mark.
"Drew and Zack were upset, but I felt like they handled it well," Hudson said. "They didn't treat it like it was the end of the world, like they were completely devastated and would never be able to recover from it.
"Both hung around and cheered on their teammates. I was glad to see how they handled that. I didn't quite know what to expect there, but they handled it as they should have. I really respect that from them."
Fulton's two other wrestlers who advanced to Friday's competition - senior Sean Luetkemeyer at 189 pounds and freshman John Kingsley at 152 - were knocked out after losses in second-round wrestlebacks.
Luetkemeyer dropped a tight 4-2 overtime decision to Boonville senior James Dowling. Making his only appearance at the state championships, Luetkemeyer ended the season with a 22-8 record.
"I think Sean's proud of how he competed," Hudson said. "... Sean's had some big wins over his career. I'm proud of Sean. I think he knows that he did the best he could, and he's a tough, tough kid."
Kingsley, also a newcomer to the state tournament, was shut out by Cameron senior Tyler Daniel in a 5-0 decision. Kingsley finished the season at 26-13.
"John did a nice job," Hudson said. "... I think it was a great experience for him. Coming in at 152 pounds as a freshman is a tough task; most of the kids that he wrestled - John lost quite a bit of weight, but those kids were significantly bigger and stronger.
"We're proud of how he competed, how he treated this year and the work that he put into it."
Meanwhile, the Hornets' remaining two qualifiers - sophomore Kelcey Nunley (18-8) at 135 pounds and freshman Jarred Keiser (22-15) at 103 - were eliminated after losing twice last Thursday. Keiser was also making his first trip to the state championships.
Nunley - a two-time qualifier - was forced to injury default against Boonville senior Trevor Ditto in first-round wrestlebacks after suffering a high ankle sprain and hurting his knee.
However, Hudson explained that Nunley's knee injury wasn't as serious as first thought. X-rays revealed that Nunley suffered sprains, but no complete tears, to both his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments.