PALMYRA, Mo. — By this time last year, Palmyra’s Collin Arch had already won a plethora of matches on his way to an undefeated record and a Class 1 120-pound state championship as a freshman.
It’s been a much different journey to the postseason this winter. A late start to the season after a deep playoff run in football and adjustments to the schedule because of the pandemic left Arch with just a fraction of the matches before Saturday’s Class 1 District 2 meet.
“Last year, I had 40-something matches, but this year I’m at 16 or 17,” Arch said. “It’s a lot more practicing and a lot less competition.”
So far that hasn’t changed the result. The sophomore grappler won the Class 1 District 2 132-pound bracket Saturday in his home gym with a first-period pin over Riley Humphrey from North Callaway in the semifinals and a 9-2 decision over Gavynn Carpenter from Hallsville in the finals.
It was business as usual, even with all of the changes.
“I wouldn’t say it was that much different,” Arch said. “It’s still the same thing, the same mindset.”
It’s that kind of approach that has Arch at 62-0 in his Palmyra wrestling career, and 17-0 this season.
“He doesn’t let too much get to him. He just wrestles and does his job,” Panthers coach Josh Buatte said.
And if any day could have gotten to him, it would have been Saturday. Arch’s brother, senior Ross Arch, wasn’t able to wrestle due to an abdominal injury that effectively brought to an end a career that saw three straight Class 1 state finals appearances and a 145-pound state title in 2019.
Ross Arch had only wrestled once this season so the possibility of missing Saturday’s district meet constantly loomed, which Buatte believed help take some of the sting off of the finality.
“I think they kind of knew what was coming. There was a possibility for a while, so (Collin) had a chance to kind of process it and know that his brother might not be wrestling by his side,” Buatte said. “His brother was still there by his side, still helping the team and getting them going.”
Ross Arch’s presence didn’t just provide a spark to his brother. Three other Panthers walked away as district champions as well, and 8 wrestlers qualified for the Feb. 27 sectional meet.
“They came out and wrestled extremely tough, in front of their home crowd no less,” Buatte said. “A lot of the kids we expected to make it through made it through, even a handful of ones that we weren’t sure about showed up and wrestled hard today.”
Panthers senior Kaden Crane was victorious in the 106 bracket with a first-period pins of Cashton Holloway from North Calloway in the semifinals and Weston Ward from Centralia in the finals. Without Ross Arch and fellow senior state-finalist Weston King not able to wrestle this season, Buatte has turned to Crane to be the example on the mat.
“He has been a leader in the room. He comes out and he wrestles tough every time he’s on the mat. You’re always going to get 100 percent from him,” Buatte said. “He is never going to stop wrestling, and he is always going to go all out.”
Crane said that drive comes from his desire to succeed, but also from his desire to send out the other seniors strong.
“I’m one of the only seniors, since a lot of them got taken out,” Crane said. “It makes me feel like I’m representing the senior class a little bit.”
Junior Brayden Stevens was victorious at 126 with a first-period pin of Jonathan Pimenteo of Trinity Catholic in the semifinals and a 9-2 decision over Zane Dubes from Centralia in the finals. Panthers junior Luke Triplett also took home the 220 bracket with a second-period pin of Centralia’s Sam Lynn in the finals.
“Brayden wrestled down at 126 and has only done that a handful of times this season, so cutting down and wrestling at 126 and wrestling extremely well against tough competition was great,” Buatte said. “Same thing with Triplett, he came out and wrestled tough.”
Triplett had to fight through a mental obstacle as well. Early in the first period against Lynn, Triplett’s headgear broke and he was forced to swap for a teammate’s.
“There’s more to it than people think. It’s not your headgear when you throw on someone else’s and wrestle, so that is a little bit of a mental break,” Buatte said. “We didn’t doubt that he would be able to continue to wrestle, and that’s what he did.”
Two other Panthers reached the finals as well, but Hayes Miller fell to Eli Henry of North Callaway in an 11-8 decision and Nolyn Richards was pinned in the second period by Centralia’s Hunter Phillips.
Grayson Stevens and Xzavier Battaglio both joined the six finalists as sectional qualifiers, with Grayson taking fourth in the 138 bracket and Battaglio finishing third in the heavyweight division with a second-period pin of Matt Elgart from O’Fallon Christian in the third-place match.
“Grayson Stevens stepped up and wrestled extremely well,” Buatte said. “Xzavier, he has come a long way from this year to last year. Even from the beginning of this year to right now, he’s wrestling ten fold what he was last year. He seems to get better every day, and that’s just about everybody on the team. They seem to step up and learn from their experience every day, and that’s what we try to preach.
“Every time you’re on the mat you learn something, and if you’re not learning something you’re not moving forward.”
With two weeks before the sectional meet, where only the top three placers per weight will advance to the state meet the week of March 9, the Panthers are going to enjoy their successes from Saturday and continue their growth.
“It feels good, but we’ve still got like a month left before state so there’s still room to improve,” Collin Arch said.