OTTUMWA — Seven years ago, Eric Griffiths took just three members of the Ottumwa Alpha Dogs to the district tournament.
This year alone, 12 members of the Ottumwa youth wrestling program will represent the program at the Iowa AAU state wrestling tournament. Garrett Pumphrey, Tyler Hull, Cohen Durst, Tate Frueh, Brock Garcia, Kayden Speas, Gage Spurgeon, Daltin Doud, John Hardin, Braylon Griffiths, Koby Chanthalaeanh and Austin Grace all advanced this past weekend in Washington with Griffiths, Spurgeon and Doud bringing home district championship medals.
Add in Beckem O’Brien and Carter Cruzen, two qualifiers for the Iowa State Pee-Wee wrestling tournament, and 14 Alpha Dogs will compete in the upcoming weeks against the best youth wrestlers in the entire state.
“Braylon was the only one that qualified for state seven years ago,” Eric Griffiths said recalling a time when just three Ottumwa youth wrestlers that competed at districts. “We’ve had 39 state qualifiers over the last three years alone. It’s going to help all these kids in the long run. Getting that experience to compete at Wells Fargo Arena (Feb. 29-Mar. 1) prepares them from what I’m wanting them to accomplish when they’re 16, 17 and 18-years-old.”
Griffiths and Doud are both no strangers to state competition. Both have competed and placed in the Iowa AAU state wrestling tournament in the past three years.
That previous experience has already come in handy as both wrestlers are taking an even-keeled approach to competing at state.
“You just have to take it one match at a time and leave it all on the mat each time,” Braylon Griffiths said. “Being a district champion puts you in a pretty good position going into state, but you have to get your head in the game. Most of wrestling is in our head.
“It helps having that previous experience. It helps keep you level-headed throughout the whole thing,” Doud added.
While several current Alpha Dogs will be competing at Wells Fargo Arena at the end of February, several wrestlers that have been part of the program’s recent success will be trying to qualify for the other big state wrestling tournament in Des Moines that begins next week. The Ottumwa Bulldogs will head to East High School for the Class 3A district tournament with wrestlers like Corbin Grace, Trevor Summers, Chris Luedtke and Zach Shoemaker all looking to earn Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament berths.
Both Griffiths and Doud will have that same opportunity next year as freshmen members of the OHS wrestling team. Both are hoping this year’s Iowa AAU state tournament is a catalyst to success with the Bulldogs and future Bulldogs coming up through the Alpha Dogs.
“It means a lot to see the guys on the high school team that did well a few years ago before getting to high school and are doing well this season,” Griffiths said. “Even the kids that are younger than us. They look up to us, so if do well, they want to do well.
“It’s a big thing to be a great role model for the younger kids,” Doud added. “They’ll be looking up to us and hopefully see us winning matches. Hopefully, they’ll want to do the same thing.”