by John Unrein
Hunter Newsom’s expression did not change throughout the day. The stone cold stare of attention that guided Newsom to four wins and the 195 pound championship during the 2021 MSHSAA Class 3 State Wrestling Tournament was unyielding. The fire alarm being pulled in the arena as Newsom was set to begin his final match had no effect on the mission that the senior had set out to complete. The perfect 41-0 record of Neosho’s Jeremiah Larson entering the tournament, who Newsom would defeat in the final match of their weight class did not faze the Grain Valley senior either.
Newsom would gain a one point lead with under a minute left in the final period by escape from the grasp of Larson. The strength needed after a full day of wrestling for Newsom to get to his feet and remove the grip of Larson was impressive to say the least. An attentive gaze turned to jubilance for Newsom as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the third period prior to the 6-5 win being announced over the public address system at the Independence Events Center.
Class was still in the forefront of Newsom’s mind after the victory in shaking Larson’s hand, nodding to the officials, and fist bumping the Neosho coaching staff before running to the arms of Grain Valley head wrestling coach Jeff Bowman for a hug. Newsom would then turn and face the Grain Valley crowd in attendance and flex his arms while giving an emotional yell that filled the arena. Newsom had just made history for Bowman’s program by being the second Grain Valley Eagle in the school’s history to win a State wrestling championship.
Waiting for Newsom at the entrance to the locker room was Grain Valley alumnus Mavrick Alexander. It was 2015 when Alexander won the 132 pound weight class as a state championship wrestler for the Eagles, the first in school history. Newsom received his second hug of the evening from Alexander. The two kept their words short and meaningful during the exchange.
“Hunter photobombed me after I won the state championship. When I confronted him about it, he told me I could return the favor when he became a state champion. He held true to his word. All I said to him was how ecstatic I was and that he made all of us proud,” Alexander said.
Newsom simply replied with, “You are not alone anymore. It is not going to be lonely at the top for you.”
Newsom would go on to provide an interview for media outlets as he soaked in his win. His comments were given with reflection while being out of breath.
“The Grain Valley (wrestling room) is very interesting. We have a bunch of different characters. We love to have fun and get the work done. Coach Bowman helps us find the perfect balance in that. I look forward to coming back and helping everyone underneath me (the underclassmen). I don’t know what else to say, I love that room. I have put all of my blood, sweat, and tears into it, and it is like my second home,” Newsom said.
Grain Valley would finish with 50 team points in the boy’s tournament, good for 8th place in Class 3. A strong showing that was aided by Newsom, Donovan McBride (4th place State finisher at 285 pounds), Gavin Parks (106 pounds), Dru Azcona (126 pounds), and Tanner Barker (138 pounds). The quintet entered competition on March 12th with a combined record of 95-11.
McBride would use his mammoth strength to throw two opponents late in his final two matches. The motivation was to break the stalemates and work to gain positioning that would lead to a pin or a win. The outcome of McBride’s bravery in going for the win did not work out to his advantage either time. The senior wrestler explained his motivation was to avoid being penalized points for stalling.
“In those situations, I had already been hit with stalling, and I did not want to give up another point. I thought to myself, what is the difference in losing by two points or a pin? I made the decision that he was either going to go to his back or I was going to go to my back. My hat is off to them,” McBride said.
“Whoever scores first in this tournament has the advantage. They get the decision if there is an overtime on having the choice of top or bottom positioning.”
Sevi Aumua would join her Eagles teammates in a proud showing by placing 3rd in the 151 pound weight class at the girls MSHSAA State Wrestling Tournament on March 9th. Aumua would claim 3rd place with a first round pin of her opponent in their final match. Making the feat even more gritty was the ankle injury Aumua fought through during the tournament.
“I am glad I got to meet this senior group of wrestlers. My (wrestling) moves and mindset improved throughout the season,” Aumua said.
“My third place finish means that as a freshman, I will have time to get better. Overall, this was a good season. It was a good feeling to fight through dealing with my ankle and end the tournament with a win.”
Head coaches typically have mantras they convey to burn in the memories of those they push. “The first 30 and the last 30” was repeatedly heard by Grain Valley wrestlers coming from the corner of the wrestling mat. Bowman would continually emphasize the statement to remind his team how important it is to score points at the beginning and end of each period. The reason being the points accumulated during those stages of the match tend to have the greatest impact on the outcome.
Grain Valley wrestlers paid heed to that advice and put it into action throughout the tournament. Bowman would also remind his wrestlers to “breathe” and look at him during breaks when he was speaking so that "wind" and the message he was conveying could be confirmed. Bowman was as proud of his team as he is methodical with the way he deploys his game plan for wrestling.
“It was heartbreaking to watch the way Parks, Azcona, and Barker competed hard only have to their day end. They had some tough losses. Azcona was like the ‘Energizer Bunny’ in that he did not stop (during his wrestleback matches). He truly showed his mettle today,” Bowman said.
“We always want the first takedown (in a match). There is some astronomical number that the person who scores the first takedown usually has a 70 to 80 percent chance to win the match. Having the chance to end the first period up 2-0 heading into the second (period) and get to choose the down position for securing an escape and potentially being up 3-0 changes the dynamic of a match.”
“The first and last 30 seconds of a period matter the most. If we are up, then we get to use our counters and change the style of our offense to our advantage. I am proud of this team.”
Bowman continued, “What Newsom did was the way we drew it up. We stuck to the game plan. For him to go as non-stop hard as he did with it being his senior year and him going to play football next year in college, there was no carrot dangling. It was all his intrinsic values to compete and represent his team. We love seeing that.”
“People have scouted Newsom and know that he has a wing coming. That makes him go to the inside and circling his hips back down to the mat. From there we work by trying to get the arm out on the back. Hunter is so strong.”
Bowman finished, “The preparation, dedication, and willingness to listen is what highlights Newsom’s accomplishment. He never stops and that is my favorite thing about him. I have chills in that we get to put another name up on the banner at school. Who better than the two names (Alexander and Newsom) that will be present? They were always ‘yes coach’ in whatever we asked and their ‘buy in’ helped to make the difference.”
Class 3 195 lb. MSHSAA State Wrestling Champion Hunter Newsom.
Photo credit: Newton County News
Grain Valley Eagle head wrestling coach Jeff Bowman hugs Hunter Newsom after his State Championship win. Photo credit: Valley News staff
126 lb. Eagle wrestler Dru Azcona applies pressure to the shoulders of his opponent to maintain leverage. Photo credit: Valley News staff
285 lb. Eagle wrestler Donovan McBride secures a win on his way to fourth place in the MSHSAA State Wrestling Tournament.
Photo credit: Valley News staff