When talking about high school wrestling in Missouri, it’s hard not to mention Liberty.
The Blue Jays have displayed dominance the past four seasons, winning state titles in all of them.
During the 2022-23 season, Liberty smoked the competition, taking first with 218 points, 127.5 points ahead of second-place Francis Howell Central.
The Blue Jays had 12 state qualifiers, 10 medalists and three individual champions. This year, the expectations are the same. The team will be aiming for its fifth consecutive state championship.
“We have a pretty good lineup up and down,” Liberty head coach Dustin Brewer said. “We got some young guys coming in and some veteran guys coming back.”
The Blue Jays did lose some key pieces from last season’s team to graduation, including Cooper Rider, who was a multi-time state medalist; Kolby McClain, who also had several state medals; and three-time state champion Christopher Coates, who elected to not wrestle in high school during his senior season and will compete in college open tournaments at Purdue University.
But even with those losses, the Blue Jays are reloading as they are bringing back nine of their state qualifiers.
One of those is two-state champion Hunter Taylor, who has made a name for himself as one of the best wrestlers in his weight division at the high school level in the United States. The University of North Carolina commit finished 39-6 last season and finished with a state championship after defeating Lee’s Summit North’s Charlie Dykes in the finals.
This season, the talented senior has set some high goals for himself.
“I want to win Ironman and Donnybrook and another state title would be nice,” Taylor said. “I also want to go undefeated.”
Senior Gavin Linsman is another major name coming back to a stacked Liberty team. The three-time state champion transferred from one powerhouse to another as he won two state titles as a freshman and sophomore with Whitfield before coming to Liberty and getting another one in 2022-23.
He finished last season at 41-4 as he defeated Cole Aguirre of Fort Zumwalt North in the state finals of the 144-pound weight class in Class 4. For him, the clear goal is to achieve the rare goal of being a four-time state champion.
“My goal this year is to pin my opponent in the finals,” Linsman said. “My freshman year I won by decision; my sophomore year I won by major decision and last year I teched my guy. If I can pin my guys this year, I can finish it off.”
Peyton Westpfahl should also compete for a state championship. The junior finished fifth at state his freshman season and was a runner up last season as he fell in sudden victory 3-1 to Troy Buchanan’s Brett Smith in the 175-pound championship match.
This year, he said he anticipates he will win his first state championship.
“I am looking forward to the Ironman and Donnybrook tournaments,” Peyton Westpfahl said. “I am just fine tuning everything I have and working on being fast on my feet. I am just working on being a hammer.”
Other key returners include two-time state runner-up Devon Harrison, state medalist Cade Dunn, returning runners up Trey Craig and Trenton Bindel and state qualifiers Donovan Hodges and Isaiah Hung. Jacob Axsom also comes back with some varsity experience.
Some newcomers who could see big roles with the Blue Jays are Roman Stewart, Jayden Halter, Gavin Shelton and Masen Bindel.
“We had a lot of freshman last year,” Linsman said. “Now they have a year under their belt and they are looking good and strong.”
The Breeden sisters are the heart and soul of the girls squad for Liberty.
There are four of them and they made a huge impact last season as the team finished third overall at the state tournament.
The girls team lost two seniors who qualified for state in the 2022-23 school year – Alexis Ritchie and Isabelle Tasli – but they get back five wrestlers who made it to state, including the Breedens.
“I think this group will be in the running for another trophy,” Brewer said.
Sophomore Lilly Breeden led the Blue Jays to a top four finish last year and a state trophy as she took first at state in her freshman season after defeating Camdenton’s Abigail Fuglsang 2-0 in the championship bout. She finished with a 39-1 mark.
Sandy Breeden, a sophomore, also made a big impact for the Blue Jays. She took second at state following a 5-1 loss to Timberland’s Kate Cooper in the title bout. She ended her season with a 35-3 record.
The other two sisters are seniors and will be looking for their first state championships. Jaden Breeden is a polished wrestler who had finished third at state twice and fourth last season at 115 pounds.
“I want to at least make it past the semifinals this year,” Jaden said. “I need to work on finishing shots once I take them. I also need to work on getting up from bottom.”
Julia Breeden came close to winning a state championship last season but fell just short in a 3-2 nail biting loss to Park Hill’s Allison Gonier in the finals of the 120-pound weight class.
She also finished sixth as a sophomore and did not qualify as a freshman.
“I want to be a four time district champion and hopefully a state champion,” Julia said. “I have been working on my head outside single. I never use it in my matches but I have a pretty good one.”
Sophomore Alexis Stinson is the other state qualifier returning from last year’s team . Others who could make an impact include Tabatha Short, Samiah Watson and Alyssa Harvey.