Top-ranked Southeast Polk took most of the suspense out of a Class 3-A district wrestling tournament on Saturday at Ankeny Centennial.
The other seven teams in the field were simply trying to qualify as many wrestlers as they could for this week’s state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.
“Obviously, with a team like Southeast Polk, it makes it a battle for second place,” said Centennial coach Jay Groth. “So we ended up in second and I was pretty happy with that. We did almost as well as we could have, I think.”
Southeast Polk, the No. 8 team in the nation, won 12 of the 14 district titles and racked up 323.5 points. The Rams went 38-2 on the day with 22 falls.
Centennial finished with 179 points, 24 more than Norwalk. The Jaguars advanced six wrestlers to state, including district champion John Ware at 182 pounds.
“It feels great,” said Ware, who advanced to state for the third straight year. “Now I have some unfinished business that I need to take care of.”
Ankeny placed fifth with 128 points. The Hawks advanced five wrestlers to state.
“I was really happy with how things went,” said Ankeny coach Jack Wignall. “I would have liked to have had a champion in there, but qualifying five kids in second place….I’m Ok with that.”
Earning runner-up honors were Ankeny’s Tyler Menegay at 120, Nick Culver at 126, Sam Escherich at 138, Derek Hickman at 152 and Ross Simms at 170, and Centennial’s Steve Stych at 106, Trey Rouse at 113, Alec Helmkamp at 145, Christian Heimer at 220 and Collin Olson at 285.
The fifth-ranked Ware (36-1) pinned Marshalltown’s Peyton Williams in 1 minute 25 seconds in the finals. He posted a 1-0 decision over eventual runner-up Kameron Padavich of Southeast Polk in the semifinals.
“I think I was just being a little cautious (with Padavich),” Ware said. “I knew he was a pretty tough kid, and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. There were a lot of close calls.”
Simms (30-9) earned his second straight trip to the state tournament. He posted an 11-7 decision over ninth-ranked Mason Kerr of Southeast Polk in the semifinals before dropping a 7-2 decision to sixth-ranked Josh Edel of Marshalltown.
“Kerr has been a nemesis for Ross,” Wignall said. “Ross had always wrestled him tough, but he had never beaten him. So he beat him at the right time.”
Ankeny enjoyed a productive semifinal round. In another key match, Escherich got an escape and a takedown in the final 25 seconds to beat Centennial’s Jace Williams, 5-4, for the third time this season.
Escherich (14-9) was then pinned by Southeast Polk’s third-ranked Keegan Shaw in 1:04 in the finals.
“The semifinal round was key for us, and we knew it would be,” Wignall said. “Sam was down, but he did exactly what he needed to do to win the match.”
Culver (20-8) posted a 4-0 decision over Centennial’s Zach Owens in the semifinals. He then lost by injury default to Southeast Polk’s top-ranked Nolan Hellickson.
“I’ve got mono(nucleosis) and I didn’t want to hurt my shoulder again before Thursday,” said Culver, who has battled an injury all season. “It’s pretty difficult to wrestle with one good shoulder, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Menegay (30-13) posted a 3-2 decision over Norwalk’s Tyler Hirl to qualify for state. He then dropped an 8-2 decision to Southeast Polk’s Adam Brown.
Hickman (25-15) rolled to a 10-3 victory over Norwalk’s Jesse Cowie in the semifinals. He was then pinned by Southeast Polk’s sixth-ranked Briar Dittmer in 2:32.
The eighth-ranked Olson (33-8) dropped a 3-0 decision in the finals to top-ranked Jake Marnin of Southeast Polk. Marnin (32-0) is a former triple crown national champion.
“He’s got good hips and he’s a strong kid,” Olson said of Marnin. “He’s definitely a good wrestler, but if I get another crack at him, it would be for the state championship. So I definitely hope I do.”
Helmkamp (33-13) was pinned by Southeast Polk’s second-ranked Aaron Meyer in the finals. He then had to wrestle-back for second place, posting a 5-4 decision over Norwalk’s Ryley Smith.
Stych (20-19) was pinned by Southeast Polk’s ninth-ranked Gauge Perrien in 1:21 in the title match. Rouse (26-15) lost by a 19-4 technical fall to Southeast Polk’s second-ranked Nate Lendt, and Heimer (21-10) was pinned by Southeast Polk’s third-ranked Ethan Andersen in 51 seconds.
The Class 3-A state tournament begins on Thursday at 9 a.m. Ware will meet Bettendorf’s Chris Patricio in the opening round, and he could have a chance to avenge his only loss against top-ranked Mitch Otto of Sioux City East in the finals.
“I want a state championship. That’s my No. 1 goal,” Ware said. “Every year I try to get as prepared as I can, but this year with it being my senior year and my last time, it really pushes you a lot more.”
Both Groth and Wignall have high hopes for all of their state qualifiers.
“Our goal is to go down there and place five kids,” Wignall said. “That’s our plan.”
Groth wants the Jaguars to set their sights on the biggest prize.
“I hope the goal for every one of them is to be a state champ,” he said.