DES MOINES —
Who knows how a competitor will react when they first head out to compete at the state wrestling tournament?
Whether you’re a first-time qualifier or making a return trip to Wells Fargo Arena, the atmosphere on the biggest stage in Iowa prep sports always causes a few butterflies to flutter inside.
This is true of even the most veteran grapplers.
“I get pretty nervous right before my matches,” Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont senior and multi-time state qualifier Jason Crosby said. The fifth-ranked senior was one of four Rockets to advance to the state quarterfinals as Crosby earned a third-period pin against 10th-ranked Griswold senior Tanner Potter.
“Once I get out on the mats, they go away,” Crosby added.
For some, however, it takes a little more work. Crosby’s sophomore teammate Blake Marolf, who finished third in the state as a freshman last year, admitted nerves made things tougher for him on Thursday during his 5-3 come-from-behind Class 1A state opening-round win against Belmond-Klemme senior Reed Lette.
“I was definitely battling nerves out there and everyone’s a lot better than their record here at state,” Marolf said. “I definitely had jitters out there.”
One of the wrestlers who seamlessly adapted to the environment of state was first-time qualifying freshman Briar Cochran. One of the first wrestlers out on mat for the first session of the State Wrestling Meet, the Moravia grappler received one of the loudest ovations from a bus load of young Mohawk supporters.
“We had 70 kids sign up for the pep bus that we take up here and we brought two bus loads of support,” Cochran said.
It was more than just crowd support that helped propel Cochran to a win in state meet debut Thursday. The Mohawk freshman also credited lessons learned in the art of conditioning that lifted Cochran to a dominant win over English Valleys sophomore Sheldon Ealy.
It was after an earlier loss to Ealy that Cochran learned that lesson.
“He beat me a couple of weeks ago and I was pretty mad about it because I was in such bad condition, so my mom got me a treadmill,” Cochran said. “I’ve been running on it every morning since. I knew I could get in position to beat (Ealy) this time.”
That treadmill can be credited with a perfect day for the Moravia wrestling program, which sent multiple competitors to state for the first time in 20 years. Senior heavyweight Dylan Conley shook off an early deficit and dominated down the stretch of his 7-3 decision against Maple Valley-Anthon Oto freshman Cole Jensen.
“After our wins at sectionals, I made a deal with Briar that we’d run together in the mornings,” Conley said. “I was actually on that same treadmill. It didn’t start out well in this match for me, but I feel like the conditioning over the last two weeks got me the upper hand and helped me throughout that match.”
“We had three guys in the finals of the WACO Tournament earlier this year and all three of those guys lost,” Moravia head coach Dennis Whitlow said. “The guys realized they had to work on their conditioning a little. The way our school is set up, we can’t do anything with them after school practice-wise. The guys took it upon themselves to do that extra work to make themselves better.”
For EBF, Thursday was a day of feast or famine. The four Rockets who advanced to the state quarterfinals were the only four to advance past day one, as eighth-ranked junior Dillon Pigsley (182), fellow junior Chance Wursta (220) and sophomore Cody Brown (126) all lost twice and were eliminated in the initial state appearance for all three.
“It just simply comes down to sticking to a game plan for each opponent,” EBF head coach Brett Little said. “There might have been a little fatigue from those guys wrestling (Wednesday) in the state duals, but no one out there is a sloutch. Our four guys that advanced stuck to game plans and gutted out wins. Hopefully that’s something that all three of our guys that lost can learn from.”
Gutting out a win is exactly what ninth-ranked junior Tucker Black did for the Rockets. In a top-10 battle with 50-4 Woodbury Central senior Jake Mize, Black fought off a minor cold, an early deficit and a last-minute stalling call to win a 6-4 decision with a tiebreaking takedown with 10 seconds left.
“I’m not really sure what happened right there,” Black said of the last seconds of his first state tournament win. “I think, somehow, I ended up in double and was able to take him down. That’s when I knew I had it.”
Sophomore teammate Jeren Glosser did not wait nearly as long to join Black in the quarterfinal round. The fifth-ranked Rocket sophomore scored his second first-period pin against Emmetsburg sophomore Jake Miller, picking up the fall 15 seconds later than the victory in 70 seconds that happened Wednesday during the state duals.
“It’s all about going at a good pace,” Glosser said of quick falls. “It helps put that pressure on your opponent and can really set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Moments before Glosser’s fall, Cardinal junior Ryan Cale got his state tournament run off to an equally impressive start. Cale took over his 113-pound match with Don Bosco junior Grant Barron after nearly two scoreless minutes and rode his way to a pin at 3:45.
“I just made a few adjustments,” Cale said. “I saw a little bit of an opening and I went right after it.”
Pekin’s lone state representative gave Panther fans more than their money’s worth in his 152-pound opener. Senior Austyn Vogel overcame a 6-0 start by Wilton junior Kaleb Schmidt, a busted lip and a match-winning takedown attempt before scoring a takedown of his own with one second left in a 13-11 overtime win.
“It was a hard match, but I just had to keep working,” Vogel said.
“That definitely wasn’t a part of our game plan going in, but we’ve been working on that conditioning this week,” Pekin head coach Al Chapman added. “It certainly paid off here.”