Courier Staff Writer
After several years toiling in obscurity, the Ottumwa wrestling team will try to build on the positive gains the program made last season.
The Bulldogs kick off their season Monday at Davis County High School. The Mustangs thrashed Ottumwa 63-18 in the boys season opener last season at Evans Middle School.
The coach Kevin Cochran-led team will see the return of many of its most prolific wrestlers. This season’s squad will be spearheaded by senior Karsten VanVelsor, juniors Sky Holmgren and Connor Mier, and sophomore Nathan Cary.
Although he didn’t qualify for state — the 145-pound class included two wrestlers ranked in the top 10 — VanVelsor boasted a team-best 29-12 record at the end of the regular season. VanVelsor also added several accomplishments to his wrestling pedigree: he advanced to the finals of the Ottumwa Invite, was a runner up at the Pella Invite and he claimed third at Big Red Invite in Centerville, the Mellinger Invite in Burlington and at the Southern Iowa Classic in Fairfield. VanVelsor has already tasted state competition — he qualified for state his freshman season.
Junior Sky Holmgren won 24 matches last season at 145 pounds. He was a runner up at the Mellinger Invite and he placed fourth at Ottumwa’s home invitational. Holmgren also consistently bolstered Ottumwa’s final score by defeated his opponents in dual contests.
Cary had an excellent freshman season at 106 pounds: He took third at the Mellinger Invite and at the Pella Invitational. In addition, he regularly prevailed in his dual matches for Ottumwa.
Mier finished the regular season riding a wave of momentum after finishing fourth at the CIML Conference Invitational; the highest finish of anyone on the Bulldog roster. Unfortunately, in a situation that was similar to Velsors, Mier’s weight class was filled with ranked wrestlers. Senior Shawn Foster also managed to wrestle his way to fourth and fifth place finishes at a couple of tournaments.
Last season’s youth-laden group got off to a rough start — they were 1-7 at one point — but the Bulldogs were able to turn things around in the second half of the season. After dropping their first conference dual to Des Moines Roosevelt, which was led by the incredible John Meeks; 49-21, the Bulldogs ticked off three straight league victories. So, even though Ottumwa finished the season with a 4-7 record in duals, their solid 3-1 conference record was good enough to earn them a second place finish in the CIML Metro league.
Ottumwa ensured its second place finish with a convincing 54-27 win over Des Moines Lincoln on Senior Night. The victory avenged a tough loss to the Railsplitters the previous year that cost Ottumwa a second place finish in the conference.
The victory offered proof that the wrestling program is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, the pattern that has played out over the last two seasons will continue and Ottumwa will capture a league championship this year.
The dual versus Des Moines Lincoln wasn’t the only dual where falls played a prominent role in the final outcome. In its first conference win of the season, the Bulldogs managed to get six pins on their way to defeating Des Moines East 45-34. Cary, Shawn Foster, Holmgren, Tad Howard, and senior Emanuel Guevara and Kevin Childs all pinned their opponents.
The youthful makeup of last season’s squad should benefit this year’s team because Ottumwa now has a roster that is inundated with wrestlers who have at least one of year of varsity experience.
The team, however, will miss Guevara, who was one of its steadiest performers. He finished second at the Mellinger Invite and fourth at the Pella Invite as well as the Ottumwa Invitational.
Other returning wrestlers include juniors Tad Howard and Cole Eklund, sophomore Scott Wilson, senior Childs and Junior Garrett Goodwin.