Karsten Van Velsor was one match away from being the first Ottumwa wrestler to win the state championship since Norm Wilkerson and Denis Vanderhorst both accomplished this feat in 1967.
“It would have been nice to see him end the senior year by bringing home a state title,” Ottumwa wrestling coach Kevin Cochran said. “We’re very, very happy he had the opportunity to be there and be in that spotlight.”
Despite the loss, it was still a significant accomplishment for Van Velsor and the program as a whole. Before Van Velsor’s second-place finish, no Ottumwa wrestler had finished higher than fourth at state since 2003.
Before falling to Bettendorf’s Jacob Woodard 15-9 in the Class 3A 138-pound final, Van Velsor knocked off top-ranked Andrew Steiert of Waverly-Shell Rock in a 4-1 decision and slipped by Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Trey Blaha, 8-7.
“I just wanted to stay aggressive and just try to score the next point,” Van Velsor said.
He finished the season with 44-7 record, which included a surplus of pins. While pristine, that record is still a little deceptive because Van Velsor wrestled — and he enjoyed a wealth of success — wrestling up a weight at 145 for much of the season. What his record would have been if he would have only wrestled at 138 is anyone’s guess.
To qualify for state, Van Velsor went 3-1 at the Class 3A district tournament in Mount Pleasant. His stellar season was further sweetened by the obstacles that he had to overcome on his way to the second place finish. A right foot injury that was the result of a car accident — Van Velsor was a passenger in a car that flipped over the summer before his sophomore year — severely hindered his abilities his sophomore season and prevented him from starting his junior campaign in quality shape. The injury also engendered multiple surgeries and a couple of long stints of inactivity. A less dedicated wrestler would have thrown in the towel.
This season, however, Van Velsor took full advantage of his good health.
“The coaching staff and I always believed in him and always thought he was a little underrated,” Cochran said.
Aside from his superb run at state, Van Velsor accumulated a number of first and second place finishes at the invitationals Ottumwa competed in this season.
Cochran, however, said Van Velsor’s accomplishments, as impressive as they were, weren’t the only thing that impressed him about his most prolific wrestler.
“As a senior, he really stepped up and was a leader for the team his entire season,” Cochran said.
Ottumwa, spurred by the leadership of Van Velsor and fellow senior state qualifier Kevin Childs, went 11-11 in duals this season — more wins than they had compiled in the previous four years combined.
“I knew we could be better than we ever have and I just wanted everyone to do the best they could,” Van Velsor said.
In addition, Van Velsor said his team also was bolstered by its many wrestlers who wrestled in the offseason.
Childs’ senior season featured an eye-opening change of fortune for the Bulldog wrestler. After only claiming two victories in his junior campaign, Childs ticked off 29 victories on his way to earning a berth in the state tournament; a 27-match increase. Childs placed second at districts with a 3-1 record. Cochran said the recipe for Childs’ success — much like Van Velsors — included three key ingredients: Hard work, dedication, and putting in extra hours in the offseason.