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Mission nearly accomplished for motivated Westminster senior

Mission nearly accomplished for motivated Westminster senior

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O'FALLON • His wrestling coach said Alex Hopkins is not afraid to lose, maybe because he hasn't lost a match all season. Maybe that's because the Westminster senior also doesn't shy away from setting lofty goals, because he knows he has the wherewithal to achieve them.

The 18-year-old Hopkins has received appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn. He also was nominated for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, but he didn't follow up with that because he already had been accepted to the other three.

Hopkins isn't quite sure where he'll end up, and he doesn't just want to serve his country afterward. The son and grandson of Marines has his sights set on special forces — the Navy SEALs, the Army Rangers or the Marine Expeditionary Forces.

“I've always tried to challenge myself,” Hopkins said. “The service academies are the best of the best. If you go there, you expect to be the best of the best. And that's where America needs the best of the best, to be in the front line fighting their battles for them.”

The 6-foot-2, 172-pound Hopkins, who has made straight As as a junior and senior and scored 34 out of 36 on his ACT, has approached his wrestling career with a similar attitude. He didn't take up the sport until his eighth-grade year and decided as a freshman, after attending the Missouri state championships, that he wanted to be a state champion.

He kept that quest alive Saturday by winning his first Class 3 District 2 championship, beating Fort Zumwalt South senior Jackson Lindley by a 9-6 decision in the 170-pound final. That ran Hopkins' season record to 31-0 and secured his spot in this year's state tournament, scheduled for Feb. 18-20 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.

“All that matters is being on top of the podium at the end,” Hopkins said. “So right now, I have to stay undefeated in order to be on top of the podium. So it's the utmost priority.”

Westminster coach Tim Muehleisen said becoming an elite wrestler has been Hopkins' priority since he started, but the coach never could have guessed it when he first saw Hopkins on a mat as an eighth-grader. Muehleisen described Hopkins as “middle of the pack” at that time, and said he still is not particularly gifted athletically.

But Hopkins dedicated himself to the sport, quitting soccer and training year-round. He said he worked out with the Purler Wrestling Academy, County Elite Wrestling and PowerBody USA Fitness Center, and Muehleisen said Hopkins often practices beyond the Wildcats' regular workout schedule.

When the coach told his wrestlers in January that they didn't need to have morning practices anymore, Hopkins decided to practice three mornings per week anyway. Muehleisen said Hopkins has been meticulous about improving his technical skills on the mat, working to improve his leg work between his sophomore and junior years and then fine-tuning his finishing moves leading up to his senior year.

“He's completely self-built,” Muehleisen said. “He's so smart, and he technically has taken the time to do everything right. And he drills it and he goes over it.”

Hopkins also credited his development to regular training sessions with fellow Westminster senior Sam Terrana, a 182-pound wrestler who won his third consecutive district title Saturday despite separating his right shoulder for the ninth time this season early in his final against Chaminade's Danny Conley. Hopkins said he wouldn't be where he is without the influence of Terrana, who hopes to improve on a fifth-place finish at last year's state meet before undergoing surgery on his shoulder in April.

Terrana had just as much praise for Hopkins, calling him the “hardest worker I've ever seen.”

“Definitely the best in the state,” Terrana said. “I'm going to watch him win state next week.”

That's the plan for Hopkins, who first devised it as a freshman attending the state competition. He was a junior varsity wrestler at the time, and took steps toward that goal each of the following two years.

Hopkins qualified for state as a sophomore and junior, when he finished with a record of 31-19, but he has yet to win a match at the state tournament. That could change next weekend, though, seeing as how Hopkins has yet to lose a match this season.

According to Muehleisen, Hopkins has a chance to become the third Westminster wrestler to be an undefeated state champion. Orion Ross was the first in 2008, and Bennett Lewis accomplished the feat in 2013.

“When I was a freshman, I saw the state tournament and saw the atmosphere. And I was like, 'I want to be here, and I want to be on top of that podium my senior year,' ” Hopkins said. “With my teammates' help, and especially Sam's, it's become a reality. I have that opportunity right now.”

Don't expect him to shy away from it.

TOP DOGS

Fort Zumwalt South won its third consecutive district team title in runaway fashion, compiling a score of 261.5 points to beat second-place Fort Zumwalt North by 83.

The Bulldogs won district championships in five weight classes — Cameron Rudy at 120 pounds, Drew Ditter at 126, Jake Kiethline at 132, Avery Scott at 152 and Charlie Henson at 160. Zumwalt South also had second-place finishes from Sam Christophel, Jake Czerniewski, Jackson Lindley, Nick Lindley and Brett Mandrell.

The Bulldogs' Austin Denson and Aaron Sarquist also qualified for the state tournament with third-place finishes in their weight classes.

“That's not bad,” said Henson, a senior captain who was a first-time district champion. “Even those of us that didn't qualify, they still scored points for us and they still helped. We all contributed — our coaches, our managers, even the JV dudes that we practice with every day. It takes all of us.” 

OUT BUT NOT DOWN

One of the top wrestlers in Class 3 District 2 — and all of Missouri, for that matter — could only watch as several of his peers secured spots at the state tournament.

Warrenton senior Dan Filipek, a state runner-up as a sophomore and junior, said he suffered a lacerated spleen while warming up for the Warriors' final home meet on Feb. 3. Filipek, who was 46-0 this season and ranked first in the state in the 160-pound weight class according to Warrenton coach Kevin Fowler, collided with teammate Brendon Cotner as they were running in a hallway outside the gym.

“It's pretty tough,” said Filipek, who attended Saturday's tournament as a spectator. “I try not to watch the (160)-pound matches. I just don't pay attention to them.”

Filipek is mostly taking the freak injury in stride, though. He said he watched Saturday's competition because he wanted to support his teammates, and although his season is over, his career is not.

He said he'll be able to wrestle again in three months and is planning to compete in a national meet during the summer. Filipek said he also has scholarship offers from Maryville University and McKendree University, so he'll be back on the mat.

“It's mostly a negative situation, but there's always better things,” Filipek said. “I could have died. It could have been worse. It could have been career-ending.” 

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS

Alex Clutter stood out among the group of wrestlers in Class 3 District 2, and not just because he placed second in the 126-pound weight class.

The St. Charles sophomore wore a uniform that could not be mistaken.

Showing through his white uniform with blue trim were Valentine's Day-themed boxer shorts, which were white with red hearts printed on them. Clutter said he didn't necessarily wear them because of Sunday's holiday.

“The main reason is luck, I guess,” he said. “I did it last year and this year.”

Clutter placed fourth in his weight class as a freshman to narrowly earn a state berth, and he's headed back to Columbia after Saturday's runner-up finish. He said the cluster of hearts on his backside has rattled some of his opponents.

And Clutter doesn't just wear them at wrestling matches. He said he has multiple pair of Valentine's Day-themed underwear, some with Xs and Os instead of hearts.

“My mom would always go out and buy me those as a prank gift, I guess,” Clutter said. “But I wear them.” 

RETURN TO FORM

Last year was a bit of down year for Fort Zumwalt North's Shaun Beeman. After placing among the top four in the state as a freshman and sophomore, he moved up a weight class as a junior and did not place at the state competition.

Beeman is back on top of his game as a senior, though. He won the district title Saturday in the 113-pound weight class, pinning Fort Zumwalt South's Jake Czerniewski just 49 seconds after the start of their district final.

“It felt great,” Beeman said. “I was fired up.”

Winning a district title for the first time since his sophomore year has the diminutive Beeman thinking big heading into next week's state tournament at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. His best finish there was third place in the 106-pound class as a sophomore, and he plans to top that.

“I'm trying to win a state title. That's all I want,” Beeman said. “That's what I've been looking for since Day 1 of the season.” 

FAMILY TIES

With a third-place finish in the 106-pound class, Teddy Hickey continued a family tradition. The Fort Zumwalt North freshman became the fourth member of his family to qualify for the state wrestling tournament.

Hickey's father, Zumwalt North athletics director Ted Hickey, was a two-time state champion for St. Charles West. His uncle, Jerry Hickey, also was a two-time state champ, and uncle, Shaun Hickey, won a state title as well.

“It's a great experience,” Teddy Hickey said. “I think they would have been fine if I didn't make it, but they're happy I did make it.”

Parkway Central brothers James and John Kim also became first-time state qualifiers Saturday. The junior James placed third in the 120-pound class, while the sophomore John took fourth at 126 pounds.

“It's an honor,” John said. “I'm really proud.”

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