By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
No sporting event in Iowa offers more to keep fans entertained than the state wrestling meet.
With constant action on multiple mats for the better part of three consecutive days there is always something to focus attention on at.
Considering how much goes on between the start of the state meet on Thursday morning and the conclusion of finals on Saturday night it can be easy to be overloaded.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on for area teams and wrestlers the next three days.
The Wild 2A Team Race
Last year 10 points separated second and seventh place in Class 2A as seven teams scored between 72.5 and 90.5 points.
The race for the 2A crown should be equally congested this season with many of the same teams in the mix.
Top-ranked New Hampton, second-ranked Solon, defending champion Creston/Orient-Macksburg figure to be in the title mix along with Davenport Assumption and Atlantic.
“I think there are a lot of teams that have a shot because a lot of teams have horses that are going to score a lot of points and it just comes down to who can get the most to place and who can get the bonus points,” Solon coach Blake Williams said.
Solon is tied for the most qualifiers among 2A participants with eight and has four, top-four ranked wrestlers in top-ranked Bryce West at 120, No. 2 Drew West at 126, fourth-ranked Trevor Nelson at 160 and fourth-ranked Tyler Linderbaum at 285.
All six of the qualifiers for New Hampton are ranked in the top 10 including a trio of top-three ranked wrestlers. Half of the six qualifiers for Assumption are ranked in the top three at their weights.
Key weights in the team race could be at 126 and 160 where Assumption, Solon and New Hampton all have ranked qualifiers.
Don’t count out defending champion Creston/Orient-Macksburg which has four of its six qualifiers ranked in the top four.
“I told them like any tournament we aren’t going to worry about team scores,” Williams said. “We are going to worry about your own individual performance and going out and first of all trying to get a win and second trying to win big if you can and the team stuff will take care of itself.”
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There are 18 state champions from last season returning to the state meet this week attempting to add to their gold medal count.
Among the 18 returning state champs are three area wrestlers looking to win consecutive titles.
West High junior Nelson Brands, Regina senior Jared Brinkman and Solon senior Bryce West all enter the state meet top-ranked and favorites to add to their title count.
Brands (50-1) will try to win the Class 3A 152-pound title after winning his first gold last season at 138 pounds.
Brinkman (34-1) is seeking his second consecutive 285-pound title in Class 1A and boasts a 76-1 record over the past two years.
Bryce West is going after a third straight title at 120 pounds but first in Class 2A after winning titles in Class 1A each of the past two seasons.
West is 50-1 this year and 155-1 over the past three seasons.
Drew West, ranked second in 2A at 126 pounds, will seek a second career gold after winning the 1A 106-pound title as a freshman in 2014.
Closing in on Perfection
Only 21 wrestlers enter competition at the state meet still with a shot at a perfect season.
City High junior Jacob Dykes is on that short list of unbeaten competitors that is four wins away from an unblemished season.
Dykes is the only undefeated wrestler in the Class 3A 195-pound bracket, entering the state meet 44-0.
Brinkman (34-1), Brands (50-1), Drew West (51-1) and Bryce West (50-1) all enter the state meet with a single loss.
Brands and Drew West are both unbeaten against Iowa competition this season.
In some sports the early rounds at state produce a few snoozers.
With random draw bracket assignments, state wrestling is notorious for producing some early round excitement.
Several area wrestlers will need to have their headgear fully fastened from the first whistle as they face challenging opening-round matches.
Some of the best first-round matchups in all classes feature area wrestlers.
In Class 3A, the opening round headliner is at 195 pounds where unbeaten City High junior Jacob Dykes (44-0) faces second-ranked Connor Corbin (37-4) of West Des Moines Valley.
Corbin was fifth at the state meet last year and three of his losses this season have come to top-ranked Kaden Sauer of West Des Moines Dowling.
Dykes is seeking his first state medal in his second trip to the state meet and is the lone undefeated wrestler in the 195-pound bracket.
City High senior Brock Hunger (37-7) also opens with a ranked opponent, facing sixth-ranked Tyrell Gordon (40-4) of Waterloo West in the first round at 182 pounds.
Hunger has won 15 of his last 16 matches entering the state meet his only loss during that threst to fourth-ranked Garrett Kubovec of Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“I think I’m wrestling a lot better,” Hunger said. “I feel the best I have my entire career.”
The first ever match at the state meet for Tyler Linderbaum is a doozy.
The fourth-ranked Solon junior faces No. 5 Elijah Van’t Hof (37-3) of Sioux Center in the 285-pound opener.
Linderbaum (49-8) won a regular season meeting 7-5 over Van’t Hof at the Herb Irgens Invite last month and managing the emotions that come with a state meet debut will be key in the rematch.
Rise of the Little Hawks
Cory Connell knew building the wrestling program at City High was going to be long-term project when he took over at his alma mater.
Connell was accurate in that assessment but in Connell’s fifth season the Little Hawks have a chance to make some serious progress on that project this week.
City High has scored a combined 26 total teams points in the first four years under Cory Connell, with 12 of those coming last season.
The Little Hawks haven’t scored more than 21 points in any of the last eight state meets.
That could change this season.
City High brings six wrestlers to the state meet, the most in five seasons under Connell, and half of those six enter ranked in the top 10.
“They are peaking right now,” Connell said. “They are wrestling well so we’re excited to see what happens.”