by Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior wrestler Dru Azcona has been a model of consistency for the Grain Valley wrestling team.
He qualified for the Missouri State High School Wrestling Championships in his first two seasons with the Eagles and got a state medal during his freshman season.
He came in Saturday’s Class 4 District 4 Tournament at Staley High School with a 39-4 record and is ranked No. 3 in high weight class in Class 4 according to the MissouriWrestling.com poll.
He proved that he was worthy of that ranking and looks to be a contender for a state title this season, especially after taking first place in the 126-pound weight class at the district tournament.
Azcona was one of four Eagles to qualify for state as the team finished fifth in the team standings with 107.5 points. Liberty won with 259. Tanner Barker (152), Justin Deweese (160) and Brock Smith (120) also punched their tickets to state for Grain Valley.
The junior won all three of his matches after getting a bye in the first round. He got a 17-0 tech fall victory against North Kansas City’s Angel Calderon in the semifinals before controlling his championship match with Oak Park’s Jamison Tunstill from start to finish during a 13-3 decision.
Azcona credited his success to his coaches and his family.
“All my high school coaches do a lot and everyone who supports me like my dad, my mom and my sister,” Azcona said. “My MO West coaches, too, helped me put in the work.
"Sometimes me and my dad go and wrestle in the room. I try to live up to his expectations. He used to wrestle at Clovis High School in California. I want to get to that level. We like to go over some moves and work on strategies.”
That’s what Barker plans on doing the week leading up to state, which begins Thursday. He took second in his weight division and qualified for state after getting a 20-5 tech fall victory against Liberty North’s Preston Beran during the semifinals. Barker fell to No. 1-ranked Logan Rathjen of Liberty 5-0 in the championship.
“I wrestled all right, but it definitely wasn’t my best,” said Barker, who is ranked No. 4 “I could have done better. I am going to go to the room and clean it up and get ready for state.
“I will work on my shots and stay calm during my matches. I will get some bottom work in, too. I need to work on getting pressure on my opponents so they feel overwhelmed. I feel like I didn’t do that in my last match.”
Rathjen had high praise for Barker.
“He had some pretty good shots and he had some pretty good fakes,” Rathjen said. “Props to him. He’s pretty good at what he does.”
So is Deweese, who started the season on the junior varsity team. The sophomore proved his worth after being promoted to varsity. On Saturday, he took third after winning his bubble match 7-4 against Park Hill’s Luis Camacho and pinning Oak Park’s Karl Knaak in 4:47 for third place.
“I think I have made some major improvements in practice,” Deweese said. “I just wanted to put in the hard work and it showed today.”
The hard work for Smith also paid off for him as the junior will compete at state for the first time. After falling to eventual champion, Fort Osage freshman Colby Gray in the semifinals, Smith topped Oak Park’s Anthony Cherco 4-1 in the bubble match and upset No. 3-ranked Cooper Rider of Liberty in 9-5 in the third-place bout.
“Finally!” Smith said. “It’s all about peaking and I am peaking at the right time,” Smith said. I am ready to take that last final summit and state.”