Southeast Polk qualified one freshman for Thursday’s state tournament. Head coach Jason Christenson watched his first-round match from 50 feet away.
It’s easier to be coach and dad from a safe distance. Even as young Gabe Christenson is growing into a 182-pound star for Class 3A’s two-time defending championship team.
“It’s a tough dynamic,” Jason Christenson said of coaching his son. “I was a coach’s kid. I just want to give him the best opportunity that I can. I don’t want him thinking about dad in the corner. I’d rather have him just think about wrestling his matches.
“And it’s pretty stressful for me.”
That anxiety makes Gabe laugh, especially after a 9-2 decision in his tournament debut against Lewis Central’s Cameron Moore on Thursday. He’s spent the last couple years practicing and training with Southeast Polk seniors like Gavin Babcock and Cody Wonderlich, who had the Rams in first place after Thursday’s first round and consolations.
The pressure of standing on the mat as a coach for his son is too much come tournament time. Assistant coach Jessman Smith has been charged with handling the promising prospect with Jason staying hands-off.
“It’s just easier for me with Jessman in my corner,” Gabe said. “He keeps it straight and to the point.
“I can tell my dad gets a little too nervous. It’s too much. But I know he loves it.”
Southeast Polk had 84 wrestlers in its high school program this season, meaning Christenson’s strength, fluid movement and maturity had to shine through to crack the lineup. He responded by being the only freshman qualifier in 3A above 126 pounds.
“You’re wrestling men at 182,” Smith said. “(Gabe) has got to hit the weight room hard and put some horsepower behind it, because he doesn’t even have whiskers on his chin yet. He’s a baby face.
“But when you get a guy like that, ready to compete this well at this level, they typically end up doing really good things.”
After years of watching from the seats at Wells Fargo Arena, Christenson is thrilled to be down on the mat. Even if his dad is standing off to the side for now.
“I’m just excited to be able to go out and have fun because that’s what it’s all about,” Christenson said.
Team race is on
Five teams arriving at Wells Fargo Arena with double-digit state qualifiers means Southeast Polk will have to fight for its fourth title in the last five years. The Rams held a slim advantage through Thursday’s first round and first round consolation matches, with 30 team points putting them ahead of Fort Dodge (28.5), North Scott (22.5) and West Des Moines Valley (22).
North Scott had eight wrestlers win opening bouts, while Fort Dodge and Valley logged seven wins on the front side. Each of the top four has defending champions and multiple district champions who could draw bonus points in Friday’s quarterfinals and semifinals.
Coleman standing by Iowa State
Ames senior Marcus Coleman continued his quest for a third consecutive title with a first-period pin of Western Dubuque’s Devin Ludwig. Coleman is unbeaten this season at 170 pounds and suffered his only loss last season to Mark Hall, a former Cadet world champion who is currently a true freshman starter in Penn State’s lineup.
“I just wanted to get this over with,” Coleman said. “There’s no reason to play around or anything like that. I just wanted to go in there and go hard. It’s good to get this match out of the way so I can relax the rest of the day.”
All that success made his commitment last July to Iowa State important, but the program’s recent shakeup – head coach Kevin Jackson announced on Jan. 31 that he’d step down at the end of the season – saw three nationally rated recruits ask to be released for their binding letters of intent.
Coleman said Thursday that he is “definitely” sticking with his hometown selection.
“It’s my hometown and one of my dream schools and I’ve been an Iowa State fan since I’ve been in diapers,” Coleman said.
“I’ve built a pretty good relationship with a lot of the older guys on the team. And I’ve been going to camps with (Jackson) and (assistant coaches Travis and Trent) the Paulsons since I started wrestling. I’m sure they thought I was going to stay.”
Coleman is set to wrestle Bettendorf senior Alex Lopez (30-13) in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Pouring on the points
Forget feeling any nerves on high school wrestling’s biggest stage. Some of 3A’s stars used their offense to steal the spotlight.
Iowa City West junior Nelson Brands impressed at 152 with a wave of aggressiveness, tallying 13 takedowns in a 28-13 technical fall that was stopped after 3:07. Four of his takedowns were unleashed in a span of 30 seconds. West picked up another tech from Brands’ teammate, Carter Rohweder, in an 18-1 romp at 160.
The scoring started immediately at 106 as Mason City’s Cullan Schriever took the mat at 9 a.m. The top-ranked freshman won 16-1 as time expired in the first period. And Fort Dodge senior Triston Lara won by the same score at 138 to continue his run back to the state championship.
Des Moines schools staying alive
All seven qualifiers from Des Moines programs advanced from Thursday to Friday, with East’s Deville Dentis and Lincoln’s Nathan Kahoe and Shawn Brown moving to the quarterfinals. The other four – East’s Brock Esplain and Matthew Jordan, Lincoln’s Tad Griffith and North/Hoover’s Shadrach Zarwie – won their consolation matches.
“I had more motivation and I was more driven this season,” Dentis said. “I worked harder and practiced harder to get here.”
East and Lincoln’s state qualifiers were underclassmen. Kahoe and Brown are sophomores, and Rails coach Dustin Roland wants their wins to boost the program’s outlook. The team attended Wednesday’s state duals tournament, even though it didn’t qualify, to add to their goals for the future.
“No one person can do everything at any school,” Roland said. “It takes a village and right now I couldn’t be more pleased with the support we have from our administration, some select parents and our coaching staff. They bust their rear ends and put a lot of time in.”
FRIDAY’S CLASS 3A SCHEDULE
9 a.m.: Quarterfinals and second round consolations
2:30 p.m.: Semifinals and third round consolations