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KHS Girls Wrestling Celebrates First State Title

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Bulldogs from across the district turn out for team victory tour

Kearney, Mo., February 24, 2023: The Bulldogs are ready to raise another banner.

Kearney High School’s Girls Wrestling team earned their first-ever MSHSAA State Championship yesterday in Columbia. They claimed the Missouri title with 75.5 points, just edging out Brookfield.

The KHS Girls Wrestling team celebrate their 2023 State Championship during a victory tour that included a stop at Kearney Junior High on Friday, Feb. 24.

All four of the Bulldogs’ state contenders ended up medaling:

  • Hailey Romero (Senior) – Second (170 Lbs)
  • Riley Walker (Freshman) – Fourth (105 Lbs)
  • Bailey Martin (Sophomore) – Third (110 Lbs)
  • Savannah McDowell (Junior) – Fourth (120 Lbs)

“Going in, the deck was stacked against us,” Head Coach Nick Ward said. “With only four qualifiers, we knew our work was cut out for us, and our bracket draws were incredibly tough. That did not phase our girls. Everyone wrestled their absolute best tournament of the season when it mattered most.”

Freshman Riley Walker jump-started the team’s tournament with an opening round pin. She ran into a game opponent in the quarterfinal round and dropped a tough match. Riley recovered well and wrestled through the backside to the third-place match. She was up 8-0 and got caught and pinned.

“A fourth-place finish as a freshman is a fantastic season,” Coach Ward said. “We can’t wait to see what the next three seasons bring.”

Bailey Martin came out firing, pinning her first two opponents with her patented cradle. In the semifinal round, she matched up with Brookfield’s 51-1, nationally ranked Jayden Keller. Bailey didn’t back down but was ultimately pinned and put into the consolation bracket. In true Bailey fashion, she pinned and tech-falled her remaining opponents, and her third-place win secured our team title. Bailey is now a two-time state medalist as a sophomore and will be a problem for anyone who steps in front of her for two more seasons.

Savannah McDowell had a Cinderella state tournament! She went into the tournament ranked 23rd and earned her spot on the podium as the fourth-place wrestler in Missouri at 120 pounds. She chipped away and gutted out close decision wins to the semifinals, where she lost to the eventual champion. Her consolation semifinal win was over an opponent who had beaten her three times this season, putting KHS in the driver’s seat to close the team race.

“Savannah is a blue-collar, hard-working, loyal teammate and leader,” Ward said. “We are lucky to get her back as a senior next season.”

Hailey Romero was the sole senior qualifier for KHS and was on a mission for redemption. After an outstanding junior season where she won prestigious tournaments such as The Wonder Woman and the KC Stampede, she stumbled at the 2022 state tournament and did not place. Determined to right that wrong, Hailey wrestled all over the country during the off-season and put in the hours to right that wrong. She pinned the top-ranked wrestler in her quarterfinal match and gutted out a gritty semifinal win to punch through to the championship match. Ultimately, Hailey would finish as the State Runner-Up at 170 lbs.

“Hailey has been an integral part of the building phase of our Girls program,” Ward said. “She has been steady, reliable, and dependable and is a tangible example of hard work and perseverance paying off to her peers.”

After a late-night return to Kearney following the Thursday evening medal ceremony, the team celebrated their state championship with a victory tour on Friday morning. This included stops at all of the schools in Kearney School District, where the team and coaches high-fived with cheering throngs of students and staff. (LINK: KHS Girls Wrestling 2023 State Championship Victory Tour Photos)

Coach Ward is confident that his team will continue to reload with new talent. Girls Wrestling is now solidly established as a new legacy for KHS.

“What these four girls did was amazing,” Ward said. “I’ve been to many state tournaments, and this is the first time I’ve seen a team of four hoist the State Championship trophy. We defeated higher-ranked teams that had three or four more participants compared to our contingent. We got every bit of effort and fight from all four of the girls. The other coaches and I couldn’t be prouder of how they represented our program, KHS, and the Kearney community. Girls wrestling has only been around for five seasons, but we have solidified our spot on the map in Missouri.”

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