PEKIN – It’s becoming a tradition for Pekin head wrestling coach Al Chapman heading into the Bill Rex Invitational.
Last year, Chapman prepared then-fresman Cooper Laumeyer for the challenge of wrestling two-time defending state champion Aden Reeves of Albia with the opportunity “to make worldwide headlines” by pulling off a huge upset. This year, freshman Blake Juhl pulled off a victory over a wrestler with a championship legacy of his own.
Juhl’s first ever match at the Bill Rex Invitational resulted in a first-period pin in the 170-pound semifinals against Iowa City Regina freshman Danny Gavin. Watching on from the stands was Gavin’s grandfather, Dan Gable, the former national championship-winning coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes and true living legend in the sport of wrestling.
“I joked with Blake he’s probably never going to be allowed into Carver-Hawkeye Arena from this point on,” Chapman joked.
With a living legend in attendance, it was ultimately the Albia Blue Demons that would once again come out on top in the season-opening tournament. Carter Anderson, ranked second in Class 2A at 106 pounds, kicked off what could be a special sophomore season by winning the first of five individual titles for Albia as the Blue Demons rallied in the championship rounds to beat the Panthers by 11 points (161-150), successfully defending their team title at Pekin.
“We enjoy opening up here. We take an extra week to get ready for the season,” Albia head wrestling coach Dave Wenger said. “This fits us really well. We really enjoy coming to this tournament.”
After pinning freshman teammate Wyatt Stewart in the first period, Anderson held off Davis County sophomore Dawson Townsend 4-2 in the first of the 14 final matches. Brodie Conner (113), Eli Zanoni (138), Michael Thomas (145) and Barrett Bonnett (152) also secured individual titles for the Blue Demons.
“There’s always room for improvement. I’m hoping to do better in our meets next week,” Anderson said. “I thought, as a team, we’d have a chance to do pretty well. All of us got started going into our wrestling room in early November. I started going in even before November a couple times a week trying to maintain where I wanted to be going into the season. It’s nice to be ranked second to start the season, but ultimately it’s just a number at this point.”
Pekin won three individual titles in their home tournament, named after their former long time head coach and teacher. Bailey Frescoln brought home the 132-pound title for the Panthers as did Mason Juhl at 220 pounds and Kaden Pollok, who pinned Van Buren senior Carson Halbrook to win the heavyweight championship.
“During my freshman year, I only had one win. I’ve seen the progress that I’ve already made going into my junior year,” Pollock said. “My goal this year is to go to state. Winning this tournament means a lot.”
Davis County followed up four dual wins during the opening week, including a 45-30 season-opening upset at Ottumwa, with a third-place finish on Saturday at Pekin as the Mustangs scored 140 points. Taylor Huggins picked up the championship at 120 pounds while Davis County teammate Caden Hill continued an impressive start to the season despite suffering a torn meniscus at the end of the football season, bringing home the 170-pound title on Saturday finishing with a first-period fall scored against Pekin senior Trevor Van Brocklin to improve to 6-1.
Cardinal finished seventh with 48 points, edged out for sixth by Van Buren County by five. Brody Adam brought home a championship in thrilling fashion for the Comets, winning the 170-pound title with an 11-9 victory in overtime. Adam rallied from an 8-0 deficit to force overtime before getting the decisive takedown 15 seconds into the extra period.
“There was a blood timeout and all I could think was that this is my senior year. It’s my last go-around and if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right by getting to the top of the podium every chance I get,” Adam said. “It just came down to a different mindset. It pushed me off the bottom and pushed me to take him down. I didn’t care what the score was. I was going to push myself as I had as could for as long as I could.”