State Wrestling Championships
By: K.J. Pilcher
DES MOINES – Alijah Jeffery doesn’t regularly show emotion, but he had a perfect reason to deviate from the norm.
A goal achieved, appreciative fans and the symbol of his success draped around his neck by a man that helped him earn it.
Jeffery pointed to the Linn-Mar crowd and exchanged a handshake with his father, Brian, who presented him with his first gold medal after capturing the 120-pound title of the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state wrestling tournament Saturday night in front of a sold out crowd at Wells Fargo Arena.
Top-ranked Jeffery handled Bettendorf’s No. 4 Paul Glynn, 7-0.
“It’s really great,” Jeffery said. “I’ve dreamt of this since freshman year.”
Trials and tribulations have marked the road, despite two third-place finishes and a fifth a year ago. He has battled weight and injury, but persevered with added dedication. Now, he can take down his AAU state title bracket from eighth grade and replace with the new one.
“I had some let downs,” Jeffery said. “I was at it more than ever this year. I just made it happen.”
Jeffery dominated his final bout, scoring the opening takedown in the first, adding an escape in the second. He hit a big four-point move in the third that sealed it. Once he had it, he knew he had to stay in position.
“I caught the arm and held that for the count and I got some back points out of it after the takedown,” Jeffery said. “That secured it.”
It also secured a perfect season, moving his record to 41-0. After being denied a year ago, he was out to prove a point in his final campaign.
“That was my goal from the start,” Jeffery said. “I said that after I didn’t do what I wanted last year. I was striving for more than being a state champion. I wanted to make it perfect and show my dominance.”
Jeffery said the moments after the match were emotional. After leaving the awards stand, his voice cracked thinking about his father, providing everything Jeffery needed to be the best he could. He recalled travelling all around the country to experience the best competition and workout partners.
“He’s been there for me,” Jeffery said. “He’s watched me through every year. He’s given me every opportunity to get a state championship.
Linn-Mar’s Andrew Holladay (39-5) topped his prep career with a trip to the state finals. He earned his second straight medal, placing fifth last year at 182. Holladay ran into Waterloo West defending state champ and Iowa State recruit Marcus Harrington, who was looking to finish his career with a second straight title.
Holladay pushed the pace and challenged Harrington. He pulled within four points in the third period, getting caught on his back attempting a last-ditch big move. Harrington won by fall in 5:18.
The championship duo helped Linn-Mar place fourth with 91 ½ points.
Cedar Rapids Prairie duo Trey Blaha (152) and Skyler St. John (160) drove each other to the state finals, battling each other in practice. The Hawks came away with silver medals.
Pleasant Valley’s third-ranked Travis Willers used a first-period takedown and an escape in the third to top Blaha, 3-0.
Blaha (39-11) found no solace in just reaching the finals.
“I didn’t come away with what I wanted,” Blaha said. “That (a state title) was my goal. Not getting what I’ve worked for all my 14 years of wrestling will hurt.”
He improved last year’s fourth-place finish, getting sixth as a sophomore. Blaha also set the career wins mark, earning his 151st win in the semifinals eclipsing the old mark of 150 set by Andrew Netolicky last year.
West Des Moines Dowling’s top-ranked Isaiah Patton edged St. John, 3-2, scoring the match’s only takedown. He was upset as he left the award stand. St. John (44-4) finished as a two-time state medalist.
“Both of them know it was within their grasp,” Prairie Coach Blake Williams said. “By no means should it take away from their outstanding careers.
“They have a lot to be proud of.”
Prairie finished fifth with 74 points.
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