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Missouri Wrestling Championships - first round

CBC's Joshua Saunders (right) gets a firm grip on Rock Bridge's Marquis McCaster during a Class 4 first-round match at 152 pounds at the Missouri Wrestling Championships on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. (Paul Kopsky, STLhighschoolsports.com)

CBC senior-to-be Joshua Saunders recently won his second title at the United States Marine Corps Wrestling Nationals in Fargo, N.D., taking the Junior Division in freestyle and placing fourth in Greco-Roman at 138 pounds.

In 2017, Saunders won the freestyle championship in the Cadet Division.

“The competition was just as tough as I expected it to be,” said Saunders, who outscored six early-round opponents 66-3 before beating Idaho’s Ridge Lovett, a Nebraska commit, by a 5-3 score for this year’s freestyle championship. “I faced some good competition and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish. But honestly, I was kind of hoping that I wouldn’t be able to wrestle at Fargo this year.”

That’s because Saunders, who’s currently training with some of the nation’s premier wrestlers in Colorado Springs, Colo., competed earlier this summer in a couple of other national events and didn’t fare quite as well as he’d hoped.

He placed third at Under-23 Nationals in freestyle and fourth in Greco-Roman and was fourth in freestyle at Junior Nationals.

“Josh was up against some other very good wrestlers. He wrestled well and competed hard,” said CBC coach Cornell Robinson, who’s also active coaching during the summer months. “But that’s Josh. He expects a lot of himself, sometimes too much. He can be tough on himself at times, but again, that’s what makes him as good as he is. He’s one of the most dedicated guys I’ve ever worked with, and that’s what makes him special.

“No matter what, Josh is always pushing to be better.”

That’s just the way Saunders has always approached his wrestling.

“I expect a lot of myself, always have,” he said. “I never want to feel satisfied because that’s when you stop working. And I know there’s always something you can do to try and get better. That’s probably why I enjoy training so much.”

Saunders, 17, is a three-time state champion at CBC.

As a freshman, he came on strong after finishing as a runner-up at the district tournament and beat three-time medalist and defending state champ Colin Valdiviez of Rockhurst at 132 pounds to cap a 36-5 season. Valdiviez is now wrestling in the Big Ten at Northwestern University.

Saunders successfully defended the title in 2018, finishing 34-3 as a sophomore, and won again in February at 152, capping a 40-2 season.

A three-time Post-Dispatch All-Metro performer, Saunders earned second-team honors as a freshman and first-team recognition the last two seasons.

“He’s as dedicated and disciplined as anybody I’ve coached,” said Robinson, who’s constantly looking to beef up the Cadets’ schedule to challenge Saunders and CBC’s other premier guys.

The Cadets have won the last two Class 4 team state championships in Missouri. The state team titles are the first in CBC program history.

Not long after winning last year’s state title, Saunders committed to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He also considered four-time defending NCAA champion Penn State, Princeton and Illinois.

“It was a tough decision, but I’m very happy with the choice I made,” said Saunders, who’s ranked as one of the nation’s top wrestling prospects and who is also a top-level student. “I was probably 11 or 12 when I got my first letter from Cornell; that’s something that really stuck with me. Coach (Rob) Koll has been there a long time, and I’m really looking forward to working with him, the other coaches and the guys on the team. It’s a family there, and I’m excited to become a part of it.”

Cornell took seventh at last year’s NCAAs, marking the program’s 12th consecutive top-10 national finish. Sophomore Yianni Diakomihalis captured his second straight national title, while junior Max Dean finished as a national runner-up.

Saunders is expected to step right in, perhaps at 141 or 149 pounds.

“I don’t want to look past my senior year at CBC, but I’m so excited about being part of things at Cornell. I can’t wait,” said Saunders, who excels in math and physics. “With the guys there now and the ones we have coming in, it’s going to be a special team at Cornell.”

And at CBC. The Cadets not only return Saunders but fellow All-Metro first-teamer Vinnie Zerban and second-team honoree Wyatt Henson. Zerban and Henson are juniors.

“A key for this team is that we’re all about the same size, which means we’re constantly drilling against each other and pushing each other every day in practice,” Saunders said. “We have a great coaching staff that pushes us and is constantly challenging us to keep working to get better.”

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