photo courtesy of Cam Kramer
This weekend, the crew over at IAwrestle put on their annual preseason event, the “Night of Conflict,” from Sioux City, Iowa. The name may be misleading now, because there was so much action on the schedule, they needed two nights to showcase all of the state’s wrestling talent. The event was expanded to include an all-girls dual on Friday nights, while the boys would compete on Saturday evening. Here are some of the highlights from another great event from IAwrestle.
1) Making an Event “Big-Time”
A big tip of the cap to the entire staff at IAwrestle as they have continued to produce an event that feels “big-time.” Being a lifelong Virginia resident, this is something that cuts to the nerve for me. Our state tournament, the pinnacle of a young wrestler’s voyage through our sport, is made to feel like an afterthought due to neglect from our governing body (VHSL). The state has six classes of public schools wrestling with another for private schools, which amounts to seven state champions at every weight class. In the past, three classes worth of state tournaments were crammed into a medium-sized high school gymnasium to conduct a state tournament. The medalists were crammed onto a tiny podium that could barely fit three high school-sized wrestlers. In years past, the actual state medals were not ordered on time. So basically, the most important tournament of a high schoolers career (and the last time most will ever compete) felt exactly the same as a random invitational at your rival counties high school in early-January.
How and why does this anecdote relate to the “Night of Conflict,” you ask? The environment that is set for an event can dictate how the fans and wrestlers perceive its importance. If a state tournament is presented haphazardly as we do in Virginia, it feels like every other date on the schedule. On the other hand, “Night of Conflict” really doesn’t mean anything from a results standpoint. Some of the matches were at catchweights or featured opponents from two different weights colliding. It’s still the preseason and most combatants are far from peak condition. The wrestlers will always be judged by what they do at their respective state tournaments. All of that being said, the pomp and circumstance surrounding the “Night of Conflict” made it feel like the finals of a huge, national-level event. From the singlets, to the smoke and IAwrestle-branded entrances, and the different price points for VIP seating, the night(s) felt like a “big-time” event. Best of all, it gave the competitors a great platform to showcase their talents and provided them with some cool memories to look back on later. This should be the blueprint for other states and organizations putting on similar events in the future.
2) Showcasing the Girls
From informal talks with IAwrestle’s Tony Hager during the team’s preparation for this event, I knew that one of the most significant focal points was to showcase the girls wrestling in Iowa. While the rest of the country is slowly moving on board with the sanctioning of girls high school wrestling, Iowa was fallen behind the pack. That seems crazy for a state that’s crazy about the sport. IAwrestle and plenty of others have been pushing hard to get girls wrestling sanctioned by the state, so having the girls get their own night to compete and show that there is significant interest in the sport was an excellent idea.
Friday’s portion of NOC featured 12 girls duals with four returning state champions and five wrestlers that are currently in the national rankings. One of the matchups between nationally-ranked competitors saw Waverly-Shell Rock’s Madison Diaz pin state champion, Jannell Avila, of Lisbon. The other bout with national implications saw Millie Peach of Iowa Valley take out Zeriah George of Winnebago, via first-period fall. One of the other stars from the night was Osage’s Emma Grimm, who wrestled twice and pinned both of her opponents.
Hopefully, other tournament organizers will take note. Girl’s and women’s wrestling is growing rapidly. Just last week, we saw Sacred Heart become the second DI school to add women’s wrestling and DII Lincoln Memorial will add the sport for men and women. Less than two weeks ago, Beat the Streets NYC and the NLWC card, featured Senior-level women competing and the action was great. Too often the term, “Grow the Sport” gets thrown around, but by promoting girls and women, you are actually helping an area of our sport that has plenty of room to expand.
3) Top-flight Opponents Clashing
We mentioned some of the notable bouts from the girl’s side. There were plenty on Saturday, with the boys, as well. Starting down low, top of the top-three 106 lbers in the nation clashed as #1 Nate Jesuroga (Southeast Polk) took on #3 Tyler Wells (Princeton, MN). The action itself lived up to the billing of its participants as Jesuroga tied the match at seven and sent it into overtime with a late takedown. He later stuffed an attack from Wells and retaliated with one of his own to win the bout, 9-7, and justify his ranking as the top-106 lber in the land.
Nate’s older brother Joel was also a standout as he disposed of Tyler Antoniak (Millard South, NE), a 2020 Nebraska state champion and a gold medalist at the 2019 U15 World Championships in Greco-Roman. Joel continued his strong offseason performance. After taking fourth at the Iowa 3A tournament in 2020, Jesuroga has an excellent showing at the IronMan Duals with a solid, 6-4 win, over graduated senior Kellyn March. He got the win on Saturday night, 4-2.
A pair of returning 106 lb state champions also did battle when the 3A champ, Ryder Block (Waverly-Shell Rock), met 1A champ, Gable Porter (Underwood). Both were undefeated state champions as freshmen in 2020. A first-period takedown and a third-period reversal were the difference as Porter took out Block, who entered the bout ranked #8 in the nation at 120 lbs.
The evening also saw one of Iowa’s ranked wrestlers go down to an opponent from Nebraska as #11 Aidan Noonan (Cascade, IA), was edged by Garrett Grice (Bellevue East, NE), 6-5. Noonan made news last week as he committed to continue his wrestling career at Wyoming.
4) Big Weight Jump…Not a Problem
After the 2019-20 season, Ben Kueter (City High, IA) made TOM’s All-Freshman second team after winning a 3A state crown at 160 lbs. The next time we saw Ben compete, at the IronMan Duals, he won 12 of 14 bouts while competing up at 195 lbs. Kueter faced a tough competition and managed to take home wins over Tony Pray (Creighton Prey, NE) and Luke Rasmussen (Brookings, SD). On Saturday, Ben was squared off with fellow Iowa 3A state champion, Mickey Griffith (Des Moines Lincoln, IA). Griffith came into the weekend ranked 11th in the nation, while Kueter was 20th. Ben would dominate the match, 12-5, based on his work from his feet. This could be an exciting rivalry to watch in the future as Kueter is only a sophomore and Griffith, a junior.
5) Future Jackrabbits Shine
Over the past two years, we at TOM have raved about South Dakota State’s ability to recruit in the state of Iowa. Saturday, Damion Hahn’s team had a pair of recruits in action and both were impressive, though admittedly, only one was from Iowa. Waverly-Shell Rock’s Bailey Roybal, currently ranked eighth in the nation at 113 lbs, took on North Dakota State-recruit Beau Klingensmith (Woodbury Central, IA). The 2020 Iowa 3A champion Roybal asserted his dominance and was able to roll with a fall in the second period.
Also in action was Alek Martin (Graham, OH), the sixth-ranked 145 lber in the nation. Martin competed in the main event of Saturday against two-time 1A champion Robert Avila (Lisbon, IA). Avila came into the night ranked fifth nationally at 138 lbs. It was all Martin who cruised to a 14-2 major decision. Things are looking bright in Brookings as Roybal and Martin are two of the cornerstones of an SDSU recruiting class that includes three wrestlers ranked in the top-six of their respective weights and four in the top-15.