Aaron Tecklenburg took the day off work and pulled the Johnston wrestlers out of school last February to sit a couple hundred feet from where they really wanted to be.
As the Dragons watched the state duals from the Wells Fargo Arena stands, the Johnston coach turned to assistant Mike Chiston and made a declaration.
“We’re not coming down here to watch next year,” Tecklenburg said.
“We knew at that point if we could bring everybody back that can and should be back, it should be a realistic expectation for us. With the pieces in place, we felt it was a realistic landing place for us.”
The field-trip days are over for the Dragons. They’re part of the show others are coming to see Wednesday.
They’re part of the new crowd at the state duals.
MORE WRESTLING: State tournament brackets
Tournament regulars Southeast Polk, Bettendorf, Davenport Assumption and Don Bosco of Gilbertville are back in contention for more championship prizes. They’re a few of the headline acts for Wednesday’s tournament, while Johnston, Dike-New Hartford and Southeast Warren are part of the fresh cast.
Johnston (22-3) is making its first appearance in the 29-year history of the event. The Dragons, seeded third in Class 3-A, open the tournament against Cedar Rapids Jefferson (13-4).
“I know there’s different strategies and different opinions about the format, and I have mine as well,” Tecklenburg said. “But we’re planning on going in there in full-strength in that first round, for sure, and seeing what kind of hand we’ve got and how we can compete.”
Top-ranked Southeast Polk (20-0) and No. 2 Bettendorf (19-3) — the two programs that have claimed all three of the dual titles since the tournament moved into Wells Fargo Arena in 2012 — are prohibitive favorites to collide again for the 3-A championship.
MORE STATE WRESTLING TOURNAMENT: Preview videos
No. 1 Union of LaPorte City (36-2) is aiming to end Davenport Assumption’s four-year title run in 2-A. Assumption’s title hopes were dealt a blow earlier this month when second-ranked 152-pounder Tristen Finch suffered a broken leg in practice.
In 1-A, Alburnett is bidding for its second title sweep after claiming the dual and traditional tournament titles in 2013. The Pirates (26-7) qualified a tournament-high 10 wrestlers for the 1-A traditional meet, but defending duals champion Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (19-1) enters Wednesday as the No. 1 seed.
Alburnett faces Dike-New Hartford in the first round. The Wolverines (26-4) rallied to beat Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont in the regional finals to earn their first trip to the state duals.
Third-seeded Southeast Warren (36-1), back in the state duals for the first time in 15 years, is eying the championship. The Warhawks are undefeated against 1-A competition.
“They’re all brothers, basically,” Southeast Warren coach Dallas O’Brien said. “They stick up for each other. It’s a big family. They’re right alongside the mat cheering each other on. They want everybody to succeed.”