In a roundabout way, Jason Christenson liked the challenge placed in front of his Southeast Polk wrestling team Saturday.
Three of his top stars watched the Ed Winger Classic from the bleachers, increasing the degree of difficulty for the No. 1 Rams and putting them in a position they’ve grown accustomed to during their two-month pursuit of another state championship.
No Nolan Hellickson. No Jake Marnin. No Deion Mikesell.
The Rams blew away second-ranked Bettendorf and the rest of the star-studded field, piling up 210.5 points to finish 40 ahead of the second-place Bulldogs during the first clash between Class 3-A’s heavyweight programs.
“I wanted to see if we could do it shorthanded,” Christenson said. “I was more excited for today probably than I would’ve been if we had all 14 (starters). I wanted to know.”
He discovered this: Even on a day when two of his top-ranked wrestlers sat out and another lost for the first time in two years, the Rams still have the state’s most potent lineup and deepest bench.
State medalist Zach Barnes filled top-ranked Hellickson’s spot and captured the title at 126 pounds. Keegan Shaw used a last-minute takedown to edge No. 3 Colton Clingenpeel of Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson 10-9 in the finals at 138.
Nine other Rams placed fifth or better, including two subs, continuing the next-man-in narrative for a team that has only assembled its full lineup twice this season.
“It’s been frustrating, but we’ve got to get these guys healthy and ready to compete when we start keeping score, because today is just today,” Christenson said. “Nobody is going to remember who won the Ed Winger.”
That’s good news for two top-ranked wrestlers who stumbled Saturday in stunning fashion.
Bettendorf’s Dayton Racer got tossed from the tournament for flagrant misconduct after whacking Pleasant Valley’s Thomas Vesey with a hard cross-face in the opening round at 160.
“I’m not a ref, but I thought it was an unsportsmanlike (penalty), not a flagrant misconduct — but it’s not my decision to make the call,” Bettendorf coach Dan Knight said. “If we don’t do it, I know we don’t put the ref in a position to make that call. We didn’t need to do it, that’s the thing. Hopefully it’s a learning experience for him.”
The other stunner came in the finals at 220 when North Scott’s Cordell Eaton toppled Ethan Andersen 4-1.
Andersen entered the bout with a 78-match winning streak that included an 18-7 major decision against Eaton in last year’s state title bout. And Southeast Polk hadn’t lost a match to an in-state opponent at 220 since 2011.
Eaton capitalized twice for takedowns when Andersen whiffed on headlock attempts and rode the Missouri recruit for nearly three minutes.
“It gives me more confidence than I had coming into this, but I know he’s going to turn it around and come back probably a lot tougher than he was today,” Eaton said. “I know I’ve got to work just as hard, if not harder, because I know he’s going to be training to get some revenge on me. I’m going to have to train to beat him again.”
At 106 Lbs, Dowling’s Sergio Orozco tries to avoid a take down by Johnston’s Zach Price during the first round at the Ed Winger Classic held at Urbandale High School on Jan. 24.
The six other top-ranked wrestlers in the tournament all claimed titles.
Bettendorf’s Fredy Stroker breezed through the 145-pound bracket, earning the tournament’s outstanding wrestler award after registering three first-period pins and a 15-0 technical fall in the finals against No. 2 Aaron Meyer of Southeast Polk.
Dowling Catholic’s Isaiah Patton cruised to the title at 170 with a 5-1 win in the finals against Iowa City West’s John Milani.
Johnston’s Henry Pohlmeyer broke open a scoreless match in the third period with an escape, a takedown and a two-point near-fall to beat Bettendorf’s second-ranked Paul Glynn 5-0 at 132. It was their third meeting in eight days.
Bettendorf’s Jack Wagner rallied from a four-point deficit at 113 to win a 9-8 decision against second-ranked Nathan Lendt of Southeast Polk.
“I was a little scared after (getting put on my back),” Wagner said. “But I had to keep my composure, get to my attacks and finish the match, get him a little tired and keep going.”