OTTUMWA — Last year, four wrestlers represented the Ottumwa Alpha Dogs program at the Iowa AAU youth state tournament. Eric Griffiths was proud of his team for putting the foundation in place for "a great culture of wrestling that we're building here in Ottumwa."
One year later, that culture is continuing to grow. The Alpha Dogs went from four state qualifiers in 2017 to 14 state qualifiers this year. Corbin Grace, Trevor Summers, Daltin Doud and Ethan Woods won district championships over the past weekend, joining teammates Dawson Goodwin, Zach Shoemaker, Braylon Griffiths, Jasmine Luedtke, Rabbit Grace, Jackson Hubbell, Sam Matthiesen, Gage Spurgeon, Brock Garcia and Kadin Liles in qualifying for this year's state youth wrestling tournament being held Feb. 24-25 in Des Moines.
"I really did feel like we had a chance to have this type of a jump in state qualifiers," Griffiths said. "Last year, I actually messed some things up and got all the kids to peak a few weeks too early. I certainly wasn't going to let that happen again this year.
"I made sure the training modules that we were going through matched up with the dates I really needed them to peak at. It worked out. Now, it's just a matter of making sure they can peak again at the state tournament."
Corbin Grace and Trevor Summers are the only two Alpha Dog wrestlers that also competed in last year's state tournament. Summers, competing last year at 105 pounds, picked up a 38-second consolation round fall over Joseph Weaver and an 8-6 decision over Nicholas Walters while Grace picked up a fall in 2:14 over Austin Kremer in the 95-pound weight class.
This year, Grace returns as 115-pound district champion while Summers competes at 135.
"After I won the district title, I felt like all the hard work I've done since last year has finally paid off," Summers said. "It's exciting to be going back to state this year and to be going with so many teammates. It's going to be a lot more fun. There's a lot more guys in here this year to prepare for state.
"The biggest key for all of us has been the hard work we put in together. I'm really excited to have so much more support there this year with all of the teammates that will be competing together at state."
Perhaps nobody on the Alpha Dogs traveled a tougher road to qualify for state then Jasmine Luedtke, the team's lone female state qualifier. Last year, Luedtke placed second in the Iowa Girls AAU state tournament and won the USA state championship in the Female Elite Wrestling Tournament.
This year, Luedtke will compete against the boys in the Iowa AAU youth state wrestling tournament at 86 pounds. Getting through districts this past weekend proved to be a monumental feat as, physically, Luedtke was far from 100 percent.
"Jasmine got sick a couple days before districts. At districts, she looked like she was on her death bed," Griffiths said. "Her skin was all white. She had bloodshot eyes. I just kept going up to her and kept asking her to push through it."
As it turned out, it was a bout of pneumonia. Luedtke persevered over the weekend fighting her way through a district bracket of fifth- and sixth-grade male competitors despite the illness.
"I just had to keep on going. If I stopped, I would get congested. It hurt inside every time I started coughing," Luedtke said. "Thankfully, I didn't cough during any of my matches. I was really focused. I wasn't going to let being sick stop me from going to state."
"When you're wrestling fifth- and sixth-grade boys, it's tough even at 100 percent. Those boys don't like to lose to girls," Griffiths said. "For her to go out and compete the way she did made me so proud."
This year featured saw a turnout of 55 participants in the youth wrestling program, 32 on the Alpha Dogs with 12 wrestlers set to make the jump next year onto the Ottumwa High School program as freshmen. This past weekend, members of the community got together to make sure the youth wrestlers of Ottumwa got to experience an incredible weekend as members of the team took a trip to Carver Hawkeye Arena last Friday to watch the Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers defeat Minnesota, 34-7, in a Big Ten dual.
"Members of the community got together to get the tickets and put a charter bus together for the kids," Griffiths said. "The team camaraderie that was built on that trip and watching the intensity and emotion of pure happiness on our kids was something to see. I think we were all on cloud nine. It was a really great Alpha Dog weekend."
Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierScott.
Iowa AAU Youth State Wrestling
At Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
OTTUMWA ALPHA DOG QUALIFIERS
66 - Brock Garcia
70 - Rabbit Grace
74 - Gage Spurgeon
86 - Jasmine Luedtke
90 - Ethan Woods (District champion)
94 - Jackson Hubbell
94 - Kadin Liles
105 - Daltin Doud (District champion)
108 - Braylon Griffiths
115 - Corbin Grace (District champion)
120 - Dawson Goodwin
125 - Zach Shoemaker
135 - Trevor Summers (District champion)
189 - Sam Matthiesen
IOWA SUPER PEE WEE STATE QUALIFIERS
(Mar. 3-4 at Young Arena, Waterloo)
44 - Colby Baxter
52 - Tanner Hull
58 - Tyler Hull