Maryville junior Keelie Strating takes down Cameron's Abigayle Provance on Monday in Plattsburg. 

PLATTSBURG, Mo. — Maryville junior Keelie Strating has come a long way in just a couple short months.

Just a couple months ago, the junior was getting on a wrestling mat for the first time and learning a new sport, now she is going toe-to-toe with some of the best in the state.

“My first two or three matches, I was getting pinned in like 30 seconds,” Strating said with a laugh. “Now it is nice to actually go through rounds and get points in, and I know what I’m doing now. I’m still behind, but at least I have a grasp on what I’m doing instead of being completely clueless like I was at the beginning of the season.”

Strating showcased that grasp on Monday when she made the trip as the lone Spoofhound girl competing in the Sam Martin Invitational in Plattsburg.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth from Keelie,” Maryville coach Howard Dumke said. “Keelie has gone from being hesitant to now having strong moves in a couple areas. Her shots have greatly improved. … Her process to think has shortened and now she is just reacting more.

“When it comes to a first-year wrestler, she is definitely making improvements, and as districts come, maybe we can upset some people.”

Strating faced a tough opening round challenge with Madyson Beard from Lathrop. Beard was able to pick up a second round pin against the less-experienced Spoofhound.

Strating’s growth was on display in the second match of the day against Cameron’s Abigayle Provance, who came into the tournament undefeated, but was upset in the opening round, providing Strating with the most challenging wrestle back match possible.

Strating was the aggressor early though and picked up the matches first takedown. She says wrestling with Katie Weiss in practice has helped her to establish that aggressive style.

“Katie is so helpful,” Strating said. “She is really good, so it is nice to be able to go against someone who is going to be tougher on you during practice, because when I’m actually going up against tougher girls, it makes it easier. Katie knows a lot of tips and tricks.”

Aggressiveness can backfire at times against a strong defensive wrestler though and Provance was able to reverse Strating on several occasions. The Cameron wrestler hadn’t taken a shot yet going into the third period, but held a 11-7 lead.

Strating chose the down position in the third and Provance made her pay with a strong move to earn a pin and end Strating’s tournament.

“At first when I was wrestling girls, they were getting moves in on me, and for the most part, I was just trying to not get taken down and it was more just me trying to not get beat rather than me actually doing stuff,” Strating said. “Being the one actually getting takedowns and trying to get points, it makes me feel like an actual wrestler.”

The tournament is just the beginning of what will be a busy week for Spoofhound wrestling. The team has its first home appearance this season on Thursday with the girls hosting Lawson and Maysville while the boys host Lawson, Maysville and Trenton. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m., in Maryville’s FEMA gymnasium, and the Spoofhound girls basketball team will be hosting Bishop LeBlond at the same time.

That will transition the Spoofhound boys wrestlers into the MEC Championships at Benton beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

The event features high expectations for plenty of Spoofhounds, but none more so than senior Keiren Watkins, who enters as the favorite at 195 pounds after winning a conference championship as a sophomore and taking second last year.

“Being the MEC champ has definitely been high on my agenda this year, especially since I was only able to take second last year,” Watkins said. “I’m really excited for my last opportunity to represent our community and wrestling program within our conference.”

Watkins picked up a big 6-1 decision on Saturday to win the boys portion of the Sam Martin Invitational over the state’s No. 5 ranked 195-pounder Keegan Reynolds of Cameron. Reynolds and Watkins are likely to meet again in the finals.

Kort Watkins also enters the week with plenty of momentum after finishing third at the Sam Martin Invitational. The sophomore has been wrestling against larger opponents than himself most the season at heavyweight, but finding success anyway.

Drew Spire, Tucker Turner, Tanner Turner and Maven Vette are other Spoofhounds who have earned medals this year and are looking strong conference showings along with the rest of the lineup.

“The Turner twins are both showing a little more consistency. … Drew is really showing what a technician he is,” Dumke said. “Coming into MEC’s, I’m expecting the people who have been winning to continue to win and I’m expecting the Turner boys to do well, and Maven can hopefully get a couple wins because he has shown a lot of improvements too.”

The Hounds also plan to get a boast from the return of senior Connor Weiss who took third in the MEC last season. Weiss has missed the first portion of the season training for the Blue-Grey All-American Football Game, which was this weekend in Dallas. Dumke expects him to be ready to go for the MEC Championships.

“Getting Connor in there, he is a third coach where he knows what kids need to do from a wrestling perspective,” Dumke said. “… He is always involved and there for the other kids when he is wrestling.”