We’re nearly there.
With the state tournament set to commence next week, Iowa high school wrestling’s main event sits just around the corner and is sure to provide another round of captivating moments and unforgettable scenes.
We’ll know the field soon, as district tournaments begin Saturday all across the state. Here’s a look at the noteworthy Iowa City-area storylines heading into the weekend:
‘I want them to stop being good and start being great’
Thanks you seniors. You've brought us a long way in 4 years. Lots more to do at state! pic.twitter.com/JrxOVH1QAX— CityHighSports (@CityHighSports) February 3, 2017
Despite falling short of a state dual berth Wednesday, City High is oozing confidence heading into Saturday’s showdown at Mount Pleasant. With four wrestlers ranked — No. 7 Joey Harney (132), No. 7 Brock Hunger (182), No. 4 Jacob Dykes (195) and No. 7 Jordain Buckland (220) — the Little Hawks have a chance to take another sizeable step forward under fifth-year coach Cory Connell.
“I think we’re wrestling the best we have all year,” Connell said. “We’re right there. We have a bunch of guys who are ready to go out there and compete and give their best.”
Dykes (41-0) has been the City frontrunner all year, rolling through much of this season’s competition with relative ease as he hunts for a second straight state title berth.
Owning an unblemished record this late in the season could certainly generate some inevitable pressure. But Connell hasn’t seen it.
“Honestly, I think how much fun Jacob’s having (has impressed me the most),” the Little Hawks coach said. “He’s doing two-a-days every day. He’s been there every morning, and he’s just getting better himself — but being a great leader and helping other wrestlers get better.
“I just think he’s having a lot of fun with wrestling right now.”
After having just three total state qualifiers in Connell’s first three seasons, City could make it eight in two years should the Little Hawks’ ranked quartet all advance Saturday. City’s head man has seen more tangible progress made in Year 5 — but now, he wants the intensity upped another level.
Doing so could make for a productive red-and-white weekend.
“Like I’ve been challenging the team this year,” Connell said, “I think we’ve been right there with some of the best teams — but I want them to stop being good and start being great. Take it to another level and really finish the year on a great note.”
For the most part, it’s been smooth sailing for Regina’s Jared Brinkman (285) and Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands (152) — a pair of Iowa City products who have crushed almost all competition in their paths this season.
Both are ranked No. 1 in their respective classes. Both have suffered just one loss this season. Both are hunting for state title repeats.
Brinkman (32-1), one of six Regals wrestling Saturday, will open up the Class 1A, District 8 tournament at Wilton against WACO’s Cody Crawford (35-8). The winner will get either Midland’s Ty`Rique Turman (28-17) or Mediapolis’ Brennan Breuer (22-15) in the championship round.
“I feel in good condition,” said Brinkman, who’s only loss as an upperclassman came last month against Western Dubuque senior and Iowa commit Aaron Costello.
“That’s really the biggest thing, for me, is just (being able to go) all three periods. I wrestled (Crawford) a couple times last year. He’s a tough kid. He placed in State last year, so I’ll have to be ready for him.”
Brands (48-1), meanwhile, has ripped off 23 straight wins since falling to Chicago St. Rita’s Austin O’Connor in late December. Most of them haven’t been close.
The West junior treks to Saturday’s Class 3A, District 5 tournament at Mount Pleasant as one of four Trojans ranked, along with No. 8 Hans von Rabenau (106), No. 5 Carter Rohweder (160) and No. 9 Ashton Stumpf (170).
With 13 guys set to go Saturday, Solon is one of just six 2A schools that qualified double-digit wrestlers for districts. It’s a loaded unit that locked up a state dual meet appearance on Tuesday and should produce a number of individual state qualifiers.
Headlined by the West brothers, No. 1 Bryce (120) and No. 2 Drew (126) — who are a combined 97-2 this season in what is their final prep campaign — the Spartans have a chance to do some serious damage at Fairfield.
The West brothers are two of seven Solon wrestlers currently ranked — along with No. 9 Ben Carr (138), No. 7 Graeson Dall (152), No. 4 Trevor Nelson (160), No. 5 Dillon Diltz (182) and No. 4 Tyler Linderbaum (285) — further emphasizing the Spartans’ firepower as one of the deepest teams across the board.
More local action in 2A, District 2
Duncan McCain’s perfection chase continues Saturday at Fairfield, where the Mid-Prairie senior will look to cement his third state appearance in three years.
McCain is 40-0 this season and hasn’t faced much resistance at 132 pounds. He’ll open against Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont’s Alex Hanna, a junior who is 44-6 on the year. The winner will face the winner of Keokuk’s Brant O’Shea (35-1) and Solon’s Christian Haight (36-20).
Joining McCain in Fairfield is teammate Visouth Peterschmidt, who owns a rather impressive resume this season as well. The Golden Hawk senior is ranked No. 2 in 2A at 182 pounds, sports a 39-3 ledger and will open the district tournament against Washington’s Collin Murphy (21-22). The winner will get either Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont’s Austin Angle (43-9) or Solon’s Diltz (34-8) in the finals.
Alongside Mid-Prairie and Solon in the local-heavy 2A, District 2 is Clear Creek-Amana, which has a pair of wrestlers set to go. Senior Quinn Murphy (35-12) will go at 138 pounds against Washington’s Andrew Waite (33-8), while sophomore Andrew Rohret (32-15) is set to battle Washington’s Austin Hazelett (22-5) at 145 pounds.
West Liberty ready to roll
Despite a narrow loss in Tuesday’s regional semifinal dual meet against West Delaware, the Comets can make some serious noise in Saturday’s Class 2A district tournament at Maquoketa. Freshman Will Esmoil (106) and juniors Joe Kelly (152) and Bryce Esmoil (195) are currently ranked in the top three of their respective weight classes, with Kelly and the elder Esmoil both holding top spots.
That trio — along with Talen Dengler (113), Coy Ruess (126), Noah Bierman (132), Justis Dengler (138) and Austin Beaver (145) — form a stout group that should yield multiple state qualifiers.
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.