By RICK PETERSON
In a tournament that drew more than 300 competitors representing 32 schools, it was the host Washburn Rural girls wrestling team that stole the show in Saturday's fourth annual Washburn Women's Invitational.
Led by individual champions Molly Spader and Emily Funk, Damon Parker's ninth-ranked (Class 6A-5A) Junior Blues rolled to the team championship by a 426.5-294 margin over Olathe North, with Spring Hill (280), Fort Scott (277.5) and Manhattan (263) rounding out the top five.
And with the Centennial League, regional and state meets coming up, Parker feels like the three-time and defending state-champion Junior Blues are putting themselves in position to challenge for another title next month.
"We've told them since five years ago that the way you win a team championship is to stop worrying about winning the team state championship, just get better every day and they have absolutely done that and they showed it today,'' Parker said.
"Olathe North is ranked higher than us, Great Bend is ranked higher than us, Manhattan's ranked higher than us and we beat them all by more than 100 points so we're not going anywhere.''
Spader, a junior, capped a 5-0 day in the 105-pound division with a win by fall at the 4 minute, 31-second mark of the championship match over Camdyn Post of Great Bend, Spader's third pin of the day as she improved to 23-2 on the season.
"I feel like I've gotten better since the beginning (of the season),'' Spader said. "I'm more confident.''
And Spader, fifth in 6A-5A a year ago, feels like she and the team are ready for the biggest meets of the year.
"I'm ready for those to happen,'' Spader said. "I think we're doing amazing since a lot of our girls have improved and worked for it. I just think we're going to place really good.''
Funk, a senior, went unbeaten on the day while recording three pins and a technical fall, capped by a second-period pin (3:11) over Addison Vogel of Bonner Springs that pushed Funk's record to 20-8.
Senior Laiken Clark (19-3) advanced to the finals in the 135-pound division, finishing as the tournament runnerup after dropping a close 8-5 decision to Kaylan Hitchcock of Olathe North in the title match. Clark posted four straight pins to reach the final.
Junior Annie Gallegos (11-2) posted a third-place finish at 125 pounds, while sophomore Madison Blanco (19-5) was third at 130 pounds and senior Fatima Escobar (24-5) placed third at 145.
Gallegos capped her 4-1 day with a 40-second pin over Columbus' Cara Altis in the third-place match while Blanco received a medical forfeit in her third-place match and Escobar won by fall over Madelyn Garcia of Columbus at the 2:39 mark in her third-place match.
The Junior Blues got fourth-place finishes from freshman 100-pounder Kamiryn Clark (16-16) and sophomore 120-pounder Lacey Middleton (23-6) while senior 170-pounder TaAni Rhoten (25-2) finished sixth.
Seaman finished 11th as a team, with junior Koti Best (19-1) advancing to the 130-pound championship match before forced to take a medical forfeit midway through her match against Karoline Kendall of Blue Valley Southwest.
Seaman junior Taylie Heston (20-8) earned a third-place finish at 120 pounds, receiving a medical forfeit from Rural's Middleton in the third-place match, while the Vikings also got a fourth-place finish from junior 110-pounder Natalie Smith (21-9) and a sixth-place showing from junior 190-pounder Abagail Soppe (16-8).
Silver Lake, 14th as a team, got a fifth-place finish from junor 110-pounder Karley Holmes (23-11), who recorded a pin (1:27) in her fifth-place match, while sophomore 145-pounder MaKayla Connor (17-9) finished sixth.