The temperature inside the Camp Dodge practice room crept toward triple digits last week as the two-hour wrestling workout came to an end.
Ethan Andersen’s back ached. He’d been poked in the eye. And the guy responsible for inflicting most of the Southeast Polk two-time state champion’s discomfort sat by his side against a wall.
Andersen and Gannon Gremmel aren’t supposed to be chummy. They’ve been butting heads throughout high school with state championships, social media bragging rights and a higher rung on the national ladder riding on the outcome.
A couple years ago, they were the focus of a cross-state Twitter beef that went so far that Andersen hung a picture of his Dubuque Hempstead rival in the Southeast Polk weight room as a motivational ploy and later let loose with his thoughts after pinning Gremmel in the state semifinals.
“I don’t hate a lot of people, but me and him don’t mix well,” he said. “It was personal.”
It might have been then.
But now? Things have changed.
“We were young and kind of stupid (in the past),” Andersen said. “I mean, we were just little, just kids.”
On this mid-July afternoon — the second of Team Iowa’s four-day freestyle training camp in preparation for the Cadet and Junior Nationals — Andersen and Gremmel aren’t just sparring partners. They’re cracking jokes and posing side-by-side for pictures together, including one Andersen posted on his Instagram account with this caption: “Good scrap. Betcha never thought you’d see this. Working together toward bigger things.”
Andersen and Gremmel have next-level goals, just like the other wrestlers on the Iowa Eight, the Register’s preseason list of the top high school talents in the state.
It’s a select group. Half of its members are USA Wrestling national champions at the Cadet or Junior level. Gremmel is the only one of the bunch who isn’t a state champion, but he’s a freestyle Cadet national title holder.
Collectively, the Iowa Eight wrestled 381 high school matches last season. They won all but six.
It’s a group that’s heavy on college heavyweight prospects.
Andersen is ranked as the 26th-best overall prospect nationally in the 2016 class by Flowrestling. The Missouri recruit is at his best when the pace of a match is high. He puts upperweights in unfamiliar positions with his creative scrambling skills that helped him win a Folkstyle Nationals title and compile a 94-1 record with 70 pins during the past two seasons.
“He’s really got that killer instinct to go for the pin at all times, and that was kind of his downfall his freshman year,” Southeast Polk assistant Jessman Smith said. “Once we reined him back in and shored up some positions where he was exposing himself, all of a sudden he went on a pretty incredible run.”
Gremmel, a two-time state runner-up who is considering Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, is ranked five notches below Andersen on the Flowrestling list of rising seniors. In all likelihood, he’ll move up to heavyweight as a senior to begin acclimating himself to his college weight class.
“He’s a big athlete,” Andersen said. “He’s quick, strong and the dude knows how to wrestle. He’s the best big guy in the state. He’s on par with the best kids in the country at heavyweight or 220. He gives me the (practice) feel that I need to go out to those tournaments. Wrestling him is going to be like wrestling in the finals (of national tournaments).”
Albia’s Carter Isley rocketed into the national heavyweight rankings after a recent surge on the summer circuit. His 7-0 performance at last month’s freestyle Junior National Duals created a current of recruiting interest from Iowa, Northern Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue, and another wave could be on the way after Isley reached the Greco-Roman finals this week at the Junior Nationals.
Isley, though, is still undecided whether he’ll wrestle in college or opt for football. He led Class 2-A in rushing last fall, went 48-0 on his way to the 2-A state title at 220 pounds and capped his junior year by posting the best record on the Albia tennis team.
“He’s a kid who does all the right things,” Albia coach Dave Wenger said. “He’s like having another coach in the room. He’s done everything I’ve ever asked him to do.”
Isley’s offseason performance has vaulted him up to No. 5 in the Flowrestling national heavyweight rankings.
It’s also created a competition between the three Iowans to see who can climb the highest on the national charts.
“It pushes you because there’s always talk of one being better than the other,” Gremmel said. “You always hear the talk and it makes you work a little bit harder. You have one goal and that’s to be a national champion or be a state champion and beat the guys who have been right there with you the whole time.”
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Iowa Eight is the Register’s preseason list of the eight best wrestlers in the state of Iowa. Incoming freshmen through seniors are eligible. The team is selected based on Register staff observations and consultation with high school and college contacts, weighing wrestlers’ past performance and future projection in developing the list. The Register will have additional Iowa Eight lists for key boys’ and girls’ sports throughout the year.