By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – The five years Cory Connell has spent leading the wrestling program at his alma mater have been marked by steady progress.
No individual embodies the improvement City High has made under Connell better than Jacob Dykes.
After missing the state tournament by one win during a 36-12 freshman season Dykes won a single match in his state meet debut last season.
After a couple of years of steady growth Dykes and the Little Hawks are looking for a breakthrough.
Dykes enters Saturday’s Class 3A District meet at Mount Pleasant unbeaten at 195 pounds and leading a City High squad that is seeking to qualify more than four wrestlers for the state meet for the first time under Connell.
“When I got here he was in seventh grade and he has worked out with us a lot and he has steadily gotten better,” Connell said of Dykes. “He’s one of the best wrestlers we have on the team right now, he’s definitely gone through the process and made improvements and he keeps getting better.”
City High’s rise over the past two seasons has coincided with the ascension of Dykes into a state title contender.
Dykes went from 12-losses as a freshman to just four during an injury shortened sophomore season.
This season Dykes has won 41 straight matches to open the season and is one of only nine remaining undefeated wrestlers in Class 3A.
“I’m just focusing a little more,” Dykes said. “Last year I was just out of out of it, I had priorities elsewhere and I was just out there. This year I have hit every open room and I am working on everything constantly. I am just more focused.”
As Dykes has improved so have the Little Hawks.
After back-to-back seasons without a state qualifier in 2014 and 2015, Dykes was one of four state qualifiers last season.
Led by Dykes and ranked seniors Brock Hunger at 182 pounds and Jordain Buckland at 220 the Little Hawks have their sights set on expanding that growth this season.
“The thing I love about our team too is we have a lot of different wrestlers,” Connell said. “We don’t have just one kind of wrestler molded into the same thing, we have a lot of different kind of wrestlers and they win a lot of different ways.”
Dykes has spearheaded the City High resurgence this winter
He quit football to focus on wrestling this fall and the sport has given it his full attention since.
“Preseason rankings came out and I saw who was ranked and where I was at and I knew I had to pick it up,” Dykes said. “I started lifting and wrestling constantly every day.”
When Dykes says every day, he means every day.
Actually, he usually means twice a day.
“He loves wrestling, he is here every morning putting in extra work,” Connell said. “He has learned to have fun with wrestling and he is very knowledgeable. He loves wrestling, he lives wrestling.”
The work has paid off for Dykes.
He has 28 pins among his 41 wins this season and is ranked fourth in 3A at 195 pounds.
Of the other eight undefeated wrestlers in 3A seven are ranked atop their respective weight class.
Only Dykes and Marion senior Caleb Conway are unbeaten and ranked outside of the top spot.
It doesn’t bother Dykes.
“I feel like I’m a little underestimated but I’m not too upset about it,” Dykes said. “I kind of like being the underdog that’s the position I’ve been in for most of my wrestling career so I’m kind of used to it.”
Dykes hasn’t faced any of the 3A wrestlers ranked ahead of him but he hasn’t gone untested.
Four of the last five matches for Dykes entering the district meet have come against top 10 competition.
Dykes has defeated No. 10 Sam Pape of Cedar Rapids Kennedy and eighth-ranked Brayden Schultz each twice in the last two weeks.
He also owns wins this season over the number two, three, four and seventh ranked wrestlers in Class 2A.
“I felt like I could do it but I didn’t think I would be able to do it in the way that I am,” Dykes said. “I have wrestled some pretty tough competition and I have been able to beat them pretty handily and that is something I didn’t expect coming into the season. Coming into the season I felt I could be here, I’m just surprised how I have gotten to this point.”
Dykes says he’s still getting better.
He knows the best days for the Little Hawks are still ahead as well.
As for being undefeated he’s enjoying it and taking it six minutes at a time.
“I knew I could be undefeated for a certain point but I didn’t think I’d make it this far,” Dykes said. “I don’t think about it too much to be honest. It’s just all about the next match.”