Bryce Fisher sat in the state tournament warmup room Friday clicking through the brackets to see all of the chaos erupting on the Wells Fargo Arena mats.
Unbeatens stumbled, underdogs conquered and the title hopes of eight top-ranked wrestlers and two past champions shattered Friday during the second day of the Class 3-A meet.
And even the No. 1 team in the state momentarily wobbled when Southeast Polk’s 28.5-point lead turned into a double-digit deficit for the Rams.
“I was watching it,” Fisher said. “But that’s because our upperweights weren’t up yet. Once our upperweights get going it rolls on from then. I knew we were fine.”
The top-ranked tandem of Fisher and Tim Miklus dodged the bullets that hit others on top of the rankings and Dylan Blackford rallied for an overtime win as the Rams restored order and moved closer to a state title sweep.
Southeast Polk, which capped an undefeated dual season Wednesday with a victory over Bettendorf in the 3-A state dual championship, pulled away from the Bulldogs at the end of Friday’s semifinal round to finish the day with 137.5 points.
Bettendorf won all five of its semifinal matches to keep its faint title hopes on life support. The Bulldogs are second with 117 points, but they’ll need a lot more mayhem to occur Saturday to have a chance at their second straight traditional tournament championship.
Like Fisher, Ottumwa’s Karsten VanVelsor kept an eye on the brackets throughout the tournament. He said he was inspired by Thursday night’s Class 2-A session when three top-ranked wrestlers fell in the first round and it gave him hope he could become his school’s first finalist in 46 years.
The seventh-ranked senior knocked off No. 1 Andrew Steiert of Waverly-Shell Rock and No. 4 Trey Blaha of Cedar Rapids Prairie in succession Friday to reach the finals at 138.
“I just kept pushing, kept doing whatever I needed to do to get better that day, and it happened,” said VanVelsor, who pushed his record to 44-6. “It’s really kind of hard to believe right now.”
VanVelsor’s surge was symbolic of the day.
The last unbeatens in Class 3-A – Southeast Polk’s Nolan Hellickson (106), Fort Madison’s Bryce Meyer (113), Linn-Mar’s Joel Northrup (145), Fort Dodge’s Duke Egli (170) and Sioux City North’s Dustin Fuller (170) – all fell Friday.
Indianola’s John Gioffredi topped No. 1 Alijah Jeffery of Linn-Mar 6-2 to reach the finals at 120 and set up his sixth meeting of the season against Valley’s second-ranked Jake Koethe. All of their bouts this season have come in tournament championship matches.
“I’ve been meeting him the whole year,” said Koethe, a 9-1 major decision winner in the semifinals against Carroll’s Justin Katved. “He’s made me a lot better. You know your opponent when you go out there. It’s not like he’s going to throw something fancy at me. You know how he wrestles and you should be comfortable when you’re out there wrestling him.”
State champions Matt Wempen of Linn-Mar and Colby Knight of Urbandale also came up short in their bid to return to the finals.
When all of the pieces settled from the bracket busting, a pair of unranked wrestlers – Johnston’s Logan Walkup (160) and Waterloo West’s Kyler Mathews (182) – marched into the finals while Southeast Polk regained its footing at the end of the round.
Miklus and Blackford won simultaneously on neighboring mats at 160 and 170, respectively. Then Fisher, who didn’t make the varsity squad until last year when he placed third at heavyweight, reached a place he never imagined he’d be – wrestling in the state finals.
“I never thought I’d place in the state tournament,” Fisher said. “I always wanted to, it was a big dream and it was one of my goals.
“All the work I’ve put in, all the hard goes with Willie Miklus, all the rough goes with Alex Meyer and all the workouts with Jessman (Smith), it all pays off. If you work as hard as you can, it’s all going to pay off in the end.”
106 — Jacob Schwarm, Bettendorf, 26-1, vs. Henry Pohlmeyer, Johnston, 39-5.
113 — Clayton Eicher, W.D.M. Valley, 47-2, vs. Kaz Onoo, Mason City, 45-3.
120 — John Gioffredi, Indianola, 43-2, vs. Jake Koethe, W.D.M. Valley, 43-5.
126 — Jonathon Eide, W.D.M. Dowling, 46-6, vs. Fredy Stroker, Bettendorf, 46-1.
132 — Logan Ryan, Bettendorf, 43-5, vs. Bryce Steiert, Waverly-Shell Rock, 44-5.
138 — Karsten VanVelsor, Ottumwa, 47-6, vs. Jacob Woodard, Bettendorf, 40-7.
145 — Bubba Hernandez, Bettendorf, 40-4, vs. Austin Boyd, Burlington, 45-4.
152 — Dawson Nemmers, Western Dubuque, 35-4, vs. Spencer Derifield, Waverly-Shell Rock, 47-5.
160 — Tim Miklus, Southeast Polk, 49-2, vs. Logan Walkup, Johnston, 36-15.
170 — Dylan Blackford, Southeast Polk, 49-3, vs. Mitch Bowman, North Scott, 50-2.
182 — Kyler Matthews, Waterloo West, 36-6, vs. Matt Seabold, Burlington, 36-1.
195 — Adam Walther, Waverly-Shell Rock, 42-5, vs. Marcus Harrington, Waterloo West, 52-1.
220 — Bryce Fisher, Southeast Polk, 48-1, vs. Gannon Gremmel, Dubuque Hempstead, 36-9.
Heavyweight — Zach Renshaw, Council Bluffs Lewis Central, 51-3, vs. Pedro Gomez, Marshalltown, 39-3.