Lady Buffalo grapplers make history

Updated: Mar 18

Senior Kylee Eastwood (center) is the state champion, Alyssa Page is runner up and Whitley Cox-Halliburton earns her second medal at the girls state wrestling championships on Thursday. (Photos by Jane Page, special to the Journal)

By David Heidrick, Prairie View Data Base

Three Prairie View wrestlers brought home a championship medal, a second-place medal, and a sixth-place medal while finishing fourth in team standings at the Girls 4A-1A State Wrestling Championship in Salina on Thursday, Feb. 24.

Senior Kylee Eastwood is state champion in the 170-pound class; senior Alyssa Page is runner-up in the 155-pound division and sophomore Whitley Cox-Halliburton placed sixth in the 235-pound division.

The success of the Prairie View girls wrestling team this year is testament to a consistently strong program at the school that, despite a solid record of winning, was forced to overcome some adversity from last year.

Over the past three seasons, girls wrestling has really taken off in Kansas and around the country. College teams are popping up all over the place. This year, more than 1,500 girls wrestled in Kansas. The 2018-2019 wrestling season was not sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA), but more than 900 girls participated around the state.

Prairie View has been one of the top programs since the inception. Lead by head coach Walter Vandeventer and assistants Jeff Byerley, Joe Cullor, and Joy Epperson, the girls program has churned out several top wrestlers.

The 2019-2020 season was the beginning of KSHSAA sanctioned state wrestling championships for girls. Prairie View sent two to Salina, Copenhagen Browning and Kylee Eastwood. Browning took a sixth place medal, but Eastwood went two and out.

As a freshman, Eastwood earned a seventh-place finish. Her sophomore year was good as well, with Eastwood winning 27 matches as well as five tournaments, including Pioneer League. She followed that up with a third-place finish at regional.

Alyssa Page did not participate her freshman year, but as a sophomore, she showed great potential, going 24-6 and earning a league title. She just missed out on a trip to state.

Kylee Eastwood stands atop the podium after winning the championship match in her division.

A tough season to overcome

However, 2020-2021 was a tough year for the Lady Buffalos. Eastwood suffered a knee injury and missed the entire season. Many tournaments were canceled throughout the year, so the girls missed out on many opportunities.

The post season schedule was altered as well, with a sub-state tournament added after regionals. Page fought hard all year, and ended up as league champ, regional champ, but fell just short in sub-state. In a regular year, she would have been a state qualifier.

Not all was lost however, as freshman Whitley Cox-Halliburton burst onto the scene and was able to make it all the way to the big dance in Salina, bringing home a sixth-place medal, the second one in PV girls history. And everybody on the team was coming back after this season.

The 2021-2022 season has been one for the ages for Buffalo nation. Eastwood, Page, and Cox-Halliburton spent the year in the rankings, all debuting in the top six, and remaining there for the majority of the season.

Page and Eastwood went back and forth all year long for the career victories mark. It was an exciting year. When the Pioneer League tournament arrived, the Buffalos showed their power. Page and Eastwood won their weight classes. Eastwood had her second league title; Page’s was her third in a row. Cox-Halliburton was runner-up. The team took third.

Coach Vandeventer has a knack for getting his wrestlers to perform their best right at the end of the season. Multiple “Regional Coach of the Year” awards and a “State Coach of the Year” award attest to that.

Regionals was the following week and the girls did even better, all three winning their weight classes and doing so emphatically, finishing their tournaments with pins in the finals. The three champions propelled the team to a sixth-place finish out of 24 schools.

Prairie View coaches, from left, Joe Cullor, Walter Vandeventer, Joy Epperson and Kitana Parscale dshout encouragement to Kylee Eastwood moments before she wins the title match with a pin.

Lady Buffalos face ranked opponents

The girls were just saving their best for last: the Kansas State Championships. There were heavy favorites in each weight class, including some nationally ranked competitors.

At 155 pounds, Page’s weight, Allison King (Oskaloosa, 25-1) was ranked first and Jewella Cokeley (Douglass, 29-0) was ranked second.

At 170, the heavy favorite was Jolie Ziegler (Council Grove, 29-2), the two-time defending champion who at one point was in the top 25 in the nation in the Intermat rankings. In the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association (KWCA) rankings, Ziegler was second and Grace Johns (Chapman, 17-1) was first.

To start things off, Page (29-2) pinned her first opponent with just 3 seconds remaining in the match. She pinned her second opponent as well, to set up a matchup with Cokeley in the semifinals. Page dominated the matchup, getting several takedowns, displaying superior quickness on the feet, and securing the fall in the second period, just over three minutes in. She would face King in the finals.

Eastwood (29-5) had similar success, quickly pinning her first opponent, a freshman from Baldwin. Her second match was a takedown clinic, five times she took her opponent to the mat, finishing with an 11-4 decision.

Eastwood’s semifinal opponent had pinned her way through the tournament so far, and looked to be a difficult task, but Eastwood got a couple of takedowns and won a close decision, 4-2, to advance to the finals. At the same time, on another mat, Ziegler and Johns were duking it out, with Johns coming out on top.

Cox-Halliburton (11-6) was ready to go as well, taking out an opponent from Holton with a 3-0 decision before getting one of the big tournament upsets. The sophomore was able to pin the defending runner-up and second-ranked 235-pounder Chelsey Armbruster (Chapman, 13-3), in the second period.

In the semifinal match, she was up against the sixth-ranked competitor from Wellington. It was a close match, with Cox-Halliburton getting the first takedown. Her nemesis secured a takedown in the second period and secured the fall, sending Cox-Halliburton to the consolation side of the bracket.

Whitley Cox-Halliburton squares off against Sierra Dempsey in a match on the backside of the bracket.

Cox-Halliburton battles league foe

In an incredible battle against league foe Sierra Dempsey (Santa Fe Trail, 17-4), each wrestler traded an escape, Cox-Halliburton getting hers with just 12 seconds left in the match. Four overtimes ensued, with Dempsey finally securing an escape to claim victory.

Cox-Halliburton battled hard the next two matches, but was pinned in both, taking home a sixth-place medal. In five tournament matches, she faced three ranked opponents and one more who was in the rankings most of the season.

The finals matches began at 155 pounds, rather than the traditional starting at the lightest weight and going up. Page was unable to land her signature double-leg against King. All of the scoring took place in about a 40-second time span in the second period, with King escaping, then securing a takedown that Page was able to escape.

The match ended a few seconds later when King secured a takedown and the fall. Page finished the season with a 32-4 record and 71 career victories and an 82.5 percent career win percentage.

Eastwood was up next at 170 pounds. She was not intimidated in the least. After a scoreless first period, Johns was able to escape for a point. Johns started the third period on top position and Eastwood quickly scored a two-point reversal for the lead. It didn’t last, as Johns was able to get away and tie it up at 2-2.

The match went into overtime. That’s where Eastwood delivered maybe the most dramatic finish of the entire tournament, pinning her opponent with a single tick left on the clock. Eastwood won the state championship, the first ever for girls wrestling at Prairie View.

The win also gave her 33 wins on the season, the school record, and 73 career victories, including the 13 wins before girls wrestling was sanctioned by KSHSAA.

As a team, the girls finished fourth, one point behind Columbus, who had eight competitors. In the top nine teams, only Oskaloosa had fewer wrestlers with two (both won titles).

Alyssa Page takes on Allison King in the championship match of the 155-pound division.

Wrestling a family tradition

Page finished her career tied with Eastwood for the most victories. Her father, Luke, and grandfather Larry Page also graduated from Prairie View holding that distinction, both of which have been surpassed. Alyssa and Luke are also the only parent-daughter duo to win state medals (both were also finalists).

Eastwood's sister, Kimberlee Eastwood, a freshman, also competed this year and narrowly missed qualifying for state.

Cox-Halliburton's family is very involved in wrestling. Her older brother, Wyiatt, won a medal at state in 2019, and he now wrestles on the Baker University team. Her other brother, Wayde, also wrestles for the Buffalos, and he nearly qualified for state this year as well.

Cox-Halliburton also has cracked the top five in career wins and she has two years left to go. She is also the only two-time medalist in girls wrestling at Prairie View (Browning also won two, but the first was not KSHSAA sanctioned).

Page and Eastwood will leave big shoes to fill for next year’s team. Page leaves as a three-time league champion, two-time regional champion, and state runner-up.

Eastwood was equally as impressive, winning league and regional titles in both years she competed, and most importantly, a state title. She will continue her wrestling career, signing with William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Cox-Halliburton will undoubtedly be looked up to by the younger wrestlers. She has a regional title under her belt and two state medals.

David Heidrick is editor of Prairie View Athletics Database, Prairie View Buffalo Athletics, and an editor for Eastern Kansas Sports.

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