History is in the air this week, as we head into the conclusion of the 2017-18 high school wrestling season. Without a doubt the graduating class of 2018 has been a special one to watch from the moment they stepped on the mat as freshmen back in 2013. This senior class has been so talented, that it came to little surprise that the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic, which is the nation’s most prestigious high school All-Star dual, came calling the state of Iowa with an invite to have it’s seniors compete in the event.
Headlining this class from start to finish is a pair of wrestlers who will look to join the annals of the Iowa high school history books as they contend for their fourth state title. Both Alex Thomsen of Underwood and Brody Teske will look to cap their historic careers on Saturday night by becoming our state’s 26th and 27th four-time state champions. Both enter the state tournament with one loss apiece – and those came to each other during this season. Enough cannot be said about these two wrestlers putting their perfect records on the line and going up against each other not once, but twice in the same season.
This isn’t the first time the state has had the potential of two wrestlers joining the four-time state champion club, in fact over the past 15 years its happened on four separate occasions. In 2003 Don Bosco’s Mack Reiter and Hudson’s CJ Ettelson joined the list, followed by North Linn’s Dan LeClere and Linn-Mar’s Jay Borschel in 2005. It happened in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013 with Southeast Polk’s Cory Clark and Des Moines Roosevelt’s John Meeks making it in, followed by Creston/O-M’s Jake Marlin and Denver-Tripoli’s Brandon Sorensen. It’s been two years since we have witnessed a four-time state champion enter the club, and that was Lisbon’s Carter Happel back in 2016.
Teske was a man of few words when asked about going into his final state tournament, but his three words sum up perfectly what he and his team are attempting to do: “Time to finish.”
Over the past four years it has been a true pleasure to watch Thomsen and Teske compete, and both are destined to big things in the next stage of their wrestling careers, with both heading to the Big Ten for Division I wrestling. Before Thomsen suits up for the University of Nebraska and Teske heads east for current powerhouse Penn State, these two will look to take care of some unfinished business in Wells Fargo Arena.
“It’s bittersweet,” Thomsen reflected on heading into his final state tournament, “I’m excited to head to the Wells one last time with my boys. We’ve really been training hard and I’m really excited for what we are going to showcase at the tournament. It’s crazy to think this is my last year, but I cannot wait to get this last title and then start the next chapter in my wrestling career.”
One of the things that makes this class truly so great is that there is much more than the Teske-Thomsen duo looking to make history. Three other wrestlers will attempt to win their third state title this weekend in Waukee’s Kyle Biscoglia, New Hampton-Turkey Valley’s Michael Blockhus, and Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands. All three enter this weekend as the #1 ranked wrestler in their respective weight class, and all three are also ranked in the top ten nationally by The Open Mat.
“I’m taking it in and having fun.” Blockhus told IAwrestle, “My biggest goal going into the tournament is helping my team out to get the best out of them and putting the best Michael Blockhus on the mat.”
One of the more surprising facts about two of our state’s potential three-timers is the fact that two of them didn’t even qualify for the state tournament during their freshman season. Both Biscoglia and Brands are headed to Wells Fargo Arena for just the third time in their career, but it’s safe to say they both made up for that lost time in their freshmen season.
The story of Biscoglia missing the state tournament was due to another talented Waukee wrestler, Jakob Allison, who was the eventual runner-up at 106 pounds to none other than Brody Teske. Over the next three years Biscoglia became one of the bullies of the 3A lightweights, and has gone on to have several battles with Fort Dodge’s Drew Bennett during that same stretch.
In fact last season it appeared that Bennett had finally cracked the code on Biscoglia, beating him twice during the regular season, which put Biscoglia’s chance at three titles in serious doubt. The Waukee star was able to regain his form for February and downed Bennett in a tight quarterfinals bout that led to him winning his second title.
“My high school career has been a lot of fun. This year Waukee qualified for the state duals for the first time ever so I am really looking forward to being able to compete with my whole team on Wednesday.” Biscoglia told IAwrestle on his final trip to the Wells Fargo Arena, “I feel like the Waukee coaching staff does a very good job at making sure we peak at the right time of the year. I’ve really listened to what they’re telling us to do and I think that it shows in the last couple of weeks.”
For Brands the story is also pretty wild. As a freshman Brands came into his conference tournament ranked #10 at 126 pounds, He blitzed his competition at the MVC tournament on the way to an Outstanding Wrestler performance (his first of four awards at the tournament in his career). Unfortunately he was not able to continue that momentum into Districts and wound up missing the state tournament. Since then Brands has emerged as a takedown machine and has been a force in Iowa ever since. As a sophomore he defeated Southeast Polk’s Zach Barnes in a thrilling match before then taking out Clint Lembeck of Xavier-Cedar Rapids to claim his first title.
As a junior Brands once again was involved in two of the tournament’s more heavily discussed matches. First his narrow semifinals victory over Austin Yant of Waverly-Shell Rock, who nearly pulled off the comeback against Brands in the final seconds. In the finals Brands then faced Cayd Lara of Fort Dodge, which was another high paced match with both wrestlers scoring points, but Brands edged Lara 11-9 to win his second title.
Brands was brief and to the point on what he is looking forward to this weekend, “My third state title.”
Finally, we have Michael Blockhus, who took a different path to his first two state titles. During this class’s freshman season three wrestlers came home with a state title, Teske, Thomsen, and Blockhus, who was then wrestling for Crestwood. Coming into his sophomore year Blockhus had a huge obstacle in his way to claim his second state title, Clarion-Goldfield’s #1 ranked Josh Portillo. Despite being the underdog in rankings, Blockhus almost managed to pull off the upset in the finals, but wound up with a second place finish. During his junior year Blockhus transferred to New Hampton where he won his second state title by taking out Solon’s Drew West.
“I guess I don’t see (the Portillo match) as much of a loss anymore,” Blockhus said, “It has motivated me to get where I am at today. It still sits deep in the back of my head and probably always will, but in a positive way.”
Depending on how Thomsen and Teske’s weekend go, we could see three more wrestlers added to the three-time state champion club which currently stands at 82. The state of Iowa does not count four-time state champions in this list – even though to be a four-time state champion you technically have also won three state titles, but IAHSAA opts to put four-time state champions on separate list. As an example if both Teske and Thomsen win their fourth state title the number of three-time state champs drops to 80 (and Teske/Thomsen are added to the four-time list).
The last three-time state champion was a quartet from last season who all accomplished the feat Bryce West of Solon, Ryan Leisure of Clear Lake, Marcus Coleman of Ames, and Chase Shiltz of Creston-O/M.
The final interesting side note is this class has the potential to add four wrestlers to the four-time finalist club. Obviously there is Teske and Thomsen who look to cap their careers perfect in Wells Fargo, and then there is Blockhus, who is attempting to make it three for four, but there is a fourth wrestler that could wrestle in the finals for the fourth time in his career – Valley-West Des Moines’ Grant Stotts.
As freshman Stotts made it to the 126-pound 3A finals where he was bested by Jay Schwarm of Bettendorf. He then returned to the finals as a sophomore claiming his first and only title by downing Yant of Waverly-Shell Rock, 3-2. In what was one of the best 3A rivalries in 2017, Stotts fell to Barnes of Southeast Polk in the finals last season. This weekend Stotts has the opportunity to end his career with a 2-2 record in the finals as he enters the tournament with the #1 ranking, but things certainly won’t be easy. The biggest perceived obstacle to Stotts is Fort Dodge’s Lara, who comes in ranked #2.
If all four wrestlers reach the finals it push Iowa’s total number of wrestlers to accomplish the feat to 62. The last wrestler to accomplish the feat was Leisure of Clear Lake, and he was the 58th member of the group.
The Team Races:
The team race heading into the state tournament should be interesting to watch in all three classes. Heading into the state tournament our last rankings listed Fort Dodge the favorite in the 3A, New Hampton-Turkey Valley in 2A, and Lisbon as the 1A leader. Given the rankings came out before the results of districts this past weekend the paper favorite are subject to change a little bit, but the storylines still remain.
In 1A reigning state champions head into Des Moines with nine state qualifiers and seven ranked wrestlers. Leading the Lions is returning individual state champion Cael Happel, who enters the #1 ranked wrestler at his weight and he will be assisted by the Siebrecht brothers #2 at 126 Cobe and #3 at 138 Cooper, #4 Kaden Kilburg (152) and Bryce Werderman (170), #5 Ryne Mohrfeld at 132, and #7 Logan O’Connor at 220. All of the of the Lisbon wrestlers in our last set of IAwrestle rankings stand to medal.
Challenging the Lions will be #2 Don Bosco, who seemingly is always in the mix in class 1A. Like Lisbon, Bosco will be sending nine wrestlers to the state tournament and eight of the wrestlers carry a IAwrestle ranking. The highest ranked Don is #1 Gable Fox at 138 pounds, and joining him in our last set of rankings was #3 Daniel Kimball (106), #9 Cael Frost at 120, #3 Easton Larson at 126, #7 Max Wettengel at 132, #3 Austin Hellman at 160, #9 Thomas Even at 170. Bosco did not qualify #5 Michael McClelland at 113 which definitely helps things for Lisbon.
Rounding out the top five ranked teams is #3 Missouri Valley, who will only be sending five of their seven ranked wrestlers for this weekend’s tournament, which will severely cut into the team’s margin for error. Following them is #4 ranked Denver who like Lisbon and Don Bosco will be sending nine wrestlers to the state tournament, though Denver already took a blow earlier this season when Blake Steege announced his season was over due to injury. Finally, #5 ranked Underwood will look to make some noise this weekend with their four state qualifiers. The “Dirty U” will be led by Blake Thomsen, Alex Thomsen, and Logan James, who all carry a top three ranking.
The leaders of the 2A race is New Hampton-Turkey Valley, who are looking to repeat as dual champions, but have some unfinished business at the individual tournament after taking second to Solon a year ago.
“I find it more exciting and motivating to win a team title than one just for myself. It would mean a lot tome if we accomplish a dual/individual tournament team title with the team we have this year.” one of New Hampton-Turkey Valley’s senior leaders Michael Blockhus told IAwrestle.
The Chickasaws qualified a 2A best nine wrestlers for the state tournament followed by #2 ranked West Liberty, who qualified eight. The Comets come into this weekend with only four wrestlers ranked, though all of those wrestlers are ranked in the top five. The Chickasaws also boast a 2A best seven ranked wrestlers with four of those wrestlers in the top five as well. New Hampton and West Liberty both feature a pair of top ranked wrestlers as seniors Michael Blockhus (138) and Noah Fye (145) sit atop their respective weights for New Hampton, while challenger West Liberty has Esmoil brothers Will (132) and Bryce (195) at the top of their weights.
Rounding out the rest of 2A’s top ranked teams is #3 Dubuque Wahlert, who qualified all four of their ranked wrestlers. Three of Wahlert’s wrestlers are currently ranked within the top two spots. Next is #4 Ballard, who like Dubuque Wahlert are only sending four wrestlers, but all four are currently ranked by IAwrestle. In the #5 spot is Webster City, who qualified seven wrestlers.
Finally, the 3A battle looks to be a good one as #1 ranked Fort Dodge looks to unseat defending state champions Southeast Polk in the battle for a 3A title. For starters the Dodgers are sending almost their entire squad to Wells Fargo Arena, qualifying 13 out of a possible 14 wrestlers. Meanwhile their chief challengers, Southeast Polk finished tied for third with nine qualifiers. Ranked #3 is Waukee who managed to qualify all eight of their ranked wrestlers to the tournament.
Coming into this week the Dodgers have four legitimate title contenders, #2 Drake Ayala at 106 pounds, #1 Brody Teske at 126, #2 Drew Bennett at 132, and #2 Cayd Lara at 152. Teske has the clearest path to winning title number four being the overwhelming favorite at his weight. At 132 pounds Bennett will have to go through #1 ranked Zach Price of Johnston if the two reach the semifinals as expected given their rank.
The Dodger title contender with perhaps the biggest mountain to climb is Ayala at 106 pounds who has #4 Lucas Uliano of Waukee and #5 Devin Harmison of Southeast Polk to get through in order to attempt to knock off the returning state champion Cullan Schriever, who is the favorite to come out of the top side. During the regular season it was Schriever who came out on top in the meeting of the weight’s two top wrestlers.
Facing a similarly challenging bracket is Lara who will have a potential meeting with the #4 ranked Lance Runyon of Southeast Polk in the quarterfinals, and if he and #1 ranked Stotts reach the finals Lara will need to find away to crack the Valley-WDM wrestler who took the first two meetings.
“At this point it means everything to me,” Lara said on bringing home a team title, “We have been working for this for a very long time. We owe this Fort Dodge community for all the suport and everything they do for us. It’s time to bring that first place trophy home, where it belongs.”
If Southeast Polk is going to find a way to bring home another state championship it will need to come off the strength of a few upsets in the above listed Fort Dodge breakdown, coupled with some strong performances from their other top ranked wrestlers #2 Kobey Pritchard at 120 pounds, #1 Cade DeVos at 145, and #3 Gabe Christenson at 195.
Rounding out the top five teams is #3 Waukee who as we already mentioned qualified all eight of their ranked wrestlers. Then comes #4 Valley – West Des Moines, who is sending eight state qualifiers and four of those wrestlers are ranked in the top five. In the #5 spot is Glenwood who qualified seven and boast three wrestlers ranked in the top two.
Our final storyline to watch centers on the Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler of the Year award as the three finalists for each class will be announced on Friday night prior to the start of the semifinals. The IWCOA committee will narrow the field from ten candidates in each class to the three finalists for a total of nine wrestlers. Thanks to the fan online vote, which was hosted on IAwrestle, the following three wrestlers received one first place vote towards being named a finalist: Tanner Sloan of Alburnett (1A), Michael Blockhus of New Hampton-Turkey Valley (2A), and Joel Shapiro of Valley-WDM (3A).