WARDSVILLE, Mo. - With the success the Blair Oaks wrestling team has had the past few years, the Falcons' "firsts" are in short supply.
They hope they've got at least one more left in them.
When the Class 1 state wrestling tournament opens today at Mizzou Arena, the Falcons' Eli Roberts will look to continue a dream season, as the senior is just four wins away from an undefeated campaign.
"Eli's having a great year, he's 44-0 and he has the possibility to be the first undefeated state champion we've ever had," Blair Oaks coach Tim Karsten said. "We're running out of firsts. In the past 10 years I've been throwing out "This is the first time for this,' and "This is the first time for that,' and this would be a nice first. This is a little harder to get at.
"We're going to have to find the next "first' pretty soon, and I guess it would be the first guy to win state twice."
Roberts will be happy just to win state once, as he's coming off last year's third-place finish at 160 pounds. This year he's the top-ranked 182-pounder by Missouriwrestling.com.
"He's got a good bracket," Karsten said. "I think he can fight his way all the way through the final, where he'll probably have (Plattsburg's Dylan McClain), a kid he's wrestled twice."
Roberts will take on sophomore Quintez Binder (12-11) of Cleveland NJROTC in the first round.
Another Falcon vying for a state title is junior Logan Mudd, who brings a gaudy 51-1 mark to the 138-pound bracket.
The only problem? The other side of the bracket boasts Whitfield senior Chris Wilkes, who wrestled most of the season at 132 and handed Mudd his only loss, a 7-5 defeat during the regular season.
Wilkes, one of just 11 wrestlers from the state to appear in the Intermat national high school rankings, is a North Carolina State recruit.
"I wish the Wilkes kid had stayed down at 132," Karsten said. "Once he got in there, it changed the complexion of (the 132 bracket). You've got to live with where he weighed in at, but I'm glad he and Logan aren't on the same side of the bracket, where they wouldn't be able to wrestle each other in the finals.
"They wrestled a close match and that's completely possible to happen again. Logan can get that guy if he gets in the right situations. He's ready to go."
Mudd will square off with Rock Port sophomore Trevor Holmes (27-14) to start today's action.
Two other Falcons have a good chance to make deep runs at the event.
"I think Frankie Falotico (at 120) and John Karsten (at 220) both have good brackets for going a long way," Tim Karsten said. "They can get into the semis if they wrestle tough and smart."
Falotico (38-5), a freshman, opens against freshman Kaleb Wooden (36-6) of South Harrison. John Karsten (39-9), a junior, will start off with Gallatin senior Jimmy Dale (10-2).
Things aren't so clear-cut in the last go-round for senior Payton Lackman (23-7) at 126 pounds. He'll open with Whitfield freshman Kurtis Hahn (36-14).
"That's the toughest bracket for me to pick," Tim Karsten said. "It's a group of tough kids, and he's wrestled some of them close and wrestled some of them funky. ... He could place or he could be out early. He's just got to realize this is his last chance and give it everything he's got."
At 145 pounds, junior Brad Thomas (36-14) will open against South Harrison senior Trey Lathrum (39-5). The weight class got thrown into disarray when Thomas' teammate, Cole Kemna, broke an elbow in practice the week before districts.
"Brad Thomas did a good job for us, he came out third (at districts)," Karsten said. "That bracket lost the top two guys because of injuries, to a Seneca kid and our own Cole Kemna, but then you had people coming down from 52 and up from 38 that made it about as tough.
"It's going to be a good bracket for Brad. We'll see how he does. He's just got to keep doing the best he can."
At 132 pounds, sophomore Alex Gaydos (29-24) will represent Blair Oaks against Mid-Buchanan freshman John Anderson (39-5).
"This is Alex's first trip to state, we need him to wrestle tough and try to win a couple matches for us," Karsten said. "You never know what happens on the back side (if you lose your opener). If you've got a good kid that loses and gets crossed back over there and is not going for first anymore, seniors can just give up. So you've got to wrestle hard in them all.
"Alex doesn't have a great draw, but he's a scrapper. That might be a tough match (in the first round), but I like the next one coming back."
Finally, senior Zach Barlow (29-19) will take on Lathrop junior Trent Scobee (44-8). The winner will take on either Whitfield junior Rodney Hahn (45-2) or Maryville junior Dane Hull (27-15).
"It's his senior year and Zach met his goal of being at state, but we can't be satisfied with just going to state," Karsten said. "We've got to go there to win matches, so that's what we've been drilling into his mind this week: "You're going to state to win some matches for us.'
"He's got a tough draw that first round with Scobee, but we'll see what he does after that with the Maryville kid. When Zach's aggressive and he does his shots, he's extremely tough."
After capturing two straight trophies at the state meet - Blair Oaks was fourth in 2011 before moving up to second last year - the Falcons are looking to make it three in a row.
"Getting eight through (to state) was great," Karsten said. "We were in a tough district and got third place, but it all starts over again this week."
With two teams likely to battle for the title, everyone else is shooting for the final two trophies.
"I would say it's between Whitfield and Brookfield for No. 1 and 2, and then there's about 10 other teams that could be in the next two spots," Karsten said. "If we wrestle our best, we can get up there. If we just wrestle average, we'll be in the top 10, which is not bad, but we want to set that goal high and try to get a team trophy."