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Foes to allies: CJ's Walker, Melton thriving as first-year teammates

Jan. 30—NEOSHO, Mo. — Once Central Ozark Conference foes, Carl Junction lightweight wrestlers Lukas Walker and Sam Melton are now thriving as teammates.

The duo accounted for back-to-back individual titles — Walker at the 106-pound weight class and Melton at 113 — to aid the Bulldogs to a second-place team finish in the 2022 COC Tournament on Saturday at Neosho High School.

It was just a year ago that the two were pitted against one another in the semifinals of the same event. Walker won that bout and went on to place second while Melton, competing for Joplin at the time, settled for fourth.

A move to Carl Junction for Melton followed several months later. He and Walker have been pushing each other in the Bulldogs' practice room ever since.

"It's definitely been a great thing," Walker said. "We actually push each other in and out of the room. I think it's definitely made both of us better. We kind of hold each other accountable and enjoy seeing the other person succeed."

"It's kind of come full circle because I remember losing to Lukas here last year," Melton said, laughing. "But I think we've been good for each other at practice. I credit how much better I've gotten to him and my coaches."

Walker and Melton went 4-0 and 5-0, respectively, throughout the day to claim their first COC titles of their prep careers.

Walker, a junior, opened the tourney with three straight falls before picking up a 6-2 decision in the finals over Damien Moseley of Ozark. He improved his season record to 28-3.

The title bout saw Walker register a takedown in each period while limiting Moseley to two escape points.

"I knew going in that I'm a really strong wrestler on my feet," Walker said. "So I knew I could get into his legs, take him down and score points from my feet. Once I had the takedown, my focus was to try and pick up a turn and ride him tough on top. I didn't want to give up many points. Just wrestle tough. Throughout the match, I think I maintained that game plan pretty well."

Melton, a sophomore, picked up three falls and a major decision before claiming an 8-0 triumph over Caden Harrington of Ozark in his championship match. All of his points were scored in the final two periods with two takedowns, a 3-point nearfall and an escape.

The first period was tight — "scoreless even," said Melton, who moved to 27-4 on the year. "But then I think I wore him down a bit and he started to open up more in the second and third periods. I just had to keep my pressure and be aggressive."

The Bulldogs had two other individual champions in Chance Benford (182) and Cayden Bollinger (220). Benford capped a 4-0 day with a second-period fall over Brayden Thomas of Joplin, and Bollinger finished the event 5-0 after earning a 3-2 decision over Alex Nunez of Willard.

The tournament ultimately belonged to Ozark, however. The Tigers had six finalists and crowned one individual champion (Braxton Strict at 152) to finish atop the team standings with 178.5 points.

Carl Junction tallied 155.5 points to place second and was followed by Nixa (149.5), Neosho (138.5), Carthage (134.5), Willard (117), Republic (91.5), Branson (84.5), Joplin (68) and Webb City (60).

Neosho had one individual champion in Eli Zar (170), who punctuated a 5-0 showing with a 9-4 decision over Connor Sandridge of Republic in the finals. He improved to 38-4 on the season.

Eli Sneed (138) was the top performer for Carthage after going 4-0 with three falls. A 4-3 decision over Nolan Moeller of Ozark in the finals lifted him to 31-4 on the year.

Gunner Price (285) claimed an individual title for Joplin with a 4-2 finals win over David Recinos of Carthage. He picked up four wins in the tournament to move to 21-6 overall.

Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.