The Ottumwa Courier

January 16, 2013

Success runs in the family for Leshens; Albia brothers look to join uncle as state champs

SCOTT JACKSON
Ottumwa Courier

ALBIA — Over 200 career wins. Multiple state tournament appearances. Three ranked wrestlers.

One household with one set of talented brothers.

And one uncle who has accomplished all that and more in the sport of wrestling.

Shadow, Brett and Bryce Leshen are in quite a battle for bragging rights this winter within their own household. The three brothers combined are 86-1 so far this season and are among five ranked wrestlers on an Albia team that is currently ranked seventh in Class 2A by the Predicament.

To say there’s a high bar for competitiveness within this household is an understatement.

“It makes me work that much harder because I definitely want to place higher then they can,” Brett Leshen said. “Everything’s competitive in our house.”

That competitive nature could lead all three brothers to the top of the podium at the state wrestling meet, something only one Albia wrestler has ever accomplished.

The Leshens know that star grappler well. To many, he’s 2005 Class 2A 130-pound state champion Nick Pickerell.

To the brothers, he’s simply known as “Uncle Nick,” brother to their mother Angie.

“He’s a very special person. He’s one of kind,” Shadow said of his state champion uncle. “You don’t get those kind of people all the time in your life that have wrestled at a high level. He knows so much about this sport and he’s there to help you out when you need it.”

Pickerell, who won consecutive state titles to cap his prep career, is spreading his knowledge of the sport to several young wrestlers throughout southern Iowa. Both he and brother Tom run the “Young Bucks,” a youth wrestling program that has produced successful grapplers at Albia, Oskaloosa and Knoxville among other schools.

But as a volunteer coach for Dave Wenger’s Blue Demon staff, Pickerell is setting his goals just as high for the state tournament as he did as a competitor.

“The goal going into this year is a quadruple,” Pickerell said. “We have five guys that are ranked. I know those guys personally and their goals are to win state titles. There’s no reason they can’t achieve that goal.”

“He knows what it takes to be the best of the best,” Brett said of Pickerell. “He brings that experience into our wrestling room and makes us work as hard as he did. It’s a great feeling knowing he’s a state champion and he’s here to help get us to that point as well.”

So far this year has been a special one for the Leshen brothers, who are together on the same Albia wrestling team for the first time. Both Shadow (30-0) and Brett (29-0) are ranked third in their weight classes as juniors, with each earning their 100th career win along the way.

Freshman Bryce, meanwhile, is off to a 27-1 start in his prep career, earning the youngest Leshen a No. 5 ranking at 126 pounds. It’s a remarkable run of success for the brothers that might surprise some, but doesn’t surprise their uncle.

“The reason it doesn’t is because I’ve seen how hard these guys work,” Pickerell said. “My brother Tom was running these guys when I was in college. We have high expectations in our family.”

“It’s great as a head coach to have someone like Nick here giving so much back to this program,” Wenger said.

Pickerell certainly met those expectations not too long ago on the mats, compiling a 166-9 prep record that included three appearances in the state finals, 95 straight wins to cap his career and the No. 12 national ranking at 135 pounds as a senior by Wrestling USA magazine.

So what does it take to achieve that kind of success on the mats?

“It’s a commitment to a lifestyle. That’s what I tell these guys,” Pickerell said. “Wrestling’s different than any other sport. You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices. That’s what this sport is about.

“I tell these guys all the time that you have to do all the little things right to achieve the big things.”

Both Shadow and Brett have experienced the big stage of competing at the state wrestling tournament after both qualified last year. That experience seems to have galvanized both brothers to the success both are having this year

“Everybody knew they were good when they were freshmen. Just how good was the only question,” Pickerell said of Shadow and Brett. “They’ve kind of sent a message and now they’re both ranked third in the state.”

Pickerell fully expects the youngest of the trio, Bryce, to follow right along in keeping the family tradition of success going.

“Bryce has all the ability to be right there with both Shadow and Brett and he’s got the attitude, which is always important in wrestling,” Pickerell said. “I think if you’d ask Shadow or Brett, they might not have had the same goals. Bryce has the attitude that his goal is to win state this year.”

“I feel really confident right now,” Bryce added. “The only I feel like is that I can win it. That’s what I’m going to shoot for.”

Besides the Leshen brothers, Albia has state title hopefuls in juniors Griffin Osing and Dalton Folkerts. Osing, who recently won his 100th match, is 29-0 this season and is ranked fourth at 152 while 12-0 Folkerts is seventh rated at 145 pounds.

“It’s been a dream come true for me as a head coach,” Wenger said. “Seeing where this program was when I first got here to the success we’re having now is incredible.”

Pickerell has already experienced the thrill of coaching in the state finals after seeing Shadow battle for a state title at 113 pounds last year. If all three brothers have it their way, they’ll make this year’s championship Saturday night in Des Moines a busy one for their uncle and the rest of the Albia coaching staff.

“We all want to be state champions and that’s what we’re going to do this year,” Brett said.

“I won’t be surprised if it happens,” Pickerell added. “But I will be extremely happy.”