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Jefferson Wins District Title, Ready For State

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CEDAR RAPIDS Brenden Baker went from feeling the worst to being first.

All the hard work and dedication to reverse the result of last year's district meet paid dividends. The Cedar Rapids Jefferson sophomore reaped the rewards, which is a chance at a state title.

"I'm getting what I finally deserve," Baker said. "It's not over yet though."

Top-ranked Baker captured the 106-pound title at the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A district wrestling tournament Saturday at Jefferson. He helped the J-Hawks claim the team title and tie runner-up Linn-Mar with a tournament-best seven state qualifiers.

Baker pinned both opponents in the first period, decking Waterloo East's Kyler Lowe in 1:39 for the championship. He has continued the success from the start of the season. The dominant performance was just as important as coming away with a win.

"It's huge," Baker said. "This year in general has been a big confidence booster from last year."

During the offseason, Baker was active in freestyle and Greco-Roman, beating a previous state champion and avenging losses from last season. He worked on controlling his emotions and he has thrived.

"The mental preparation is really been the biggest factor," J-Hawks co-head coach Matt Orton said. "He's always had the talent. He always thought he was capable of it."

Baker isn't content with a district crown and just reaching state. Baker (36-0) is fixed on rolling through the field and finishing as No. 1.

"I want to prove a point," Baker said. "I'm not settling for this. I want to win state. I have to keep going."

Third-ranked Josh Allen (28-7) matched Baker, pinning his way through the 182-pound bracket for Jefferson. Allen stuck Waterloo East's Jamiir Moore in 42 seconds in the final. The J-Hawk junior overcame the competition and illness to earn a state berth.

"It shows how tough Josh is," Orton said. "Josh is a great kid and has done all the right things. I'm so happy for him."

The J-Hawks demonstrated mental toughness, grabbing four state berths through wrestleback wins by Tavian Rashed (145), Kelly May (152), Luke Sedlacek (160) and heavyweight Dalton Kuehl. They rebounded from finals losses with one more win to secure a qualifying spot.

"Those are things we prepare for," Orton said. "We run through a mock district the night before. We make sure they are ready for whatever situation it is."

Jefferson will take half its lineup to the traditional tournament and Orton was happy with the overall results, considering the field. He is optimistic about their ability next week. Jefferson sophomore 120-pounder Kyle Briggs earned his second straight state berth.

"We had tough competition," Orton said. "Seven is a god number. I feel pretty good about our seven."

The Lions crowned four champions, including top-ranked Alijah Jeffery (120) and 152-pounder Ross Lembeck. Jeffery improved to 37-0 with a fall in the finals and Lembeck (15-0) remained unbeaten with a technical fall for the title.

"Alijah and Ross were dominant," Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher said.

Linn-Mar's Damon Griffin (126) and Shea Hartzler at 160 beat ranked wrestlers in the finals. Third-ranked Andrew Holladay was runner-up at 195.

Sixth-ranked Hartzler defeated Jefferson's No. 5 Sedlacek, 5-1, in the championship. Hartzler took it in stride, knowing bigger opportunities remain.

"It's just a win," Hartzler said. "I have to focus on the next one."

Hartzler remained in good position, scoring the opening takedown and adding an escape and takedown in the third. He made strides from the last time he faced Sedlacek.

"He always wrestles tough, hard and aggressive," said Streicher, noting that Hartzler avoided being overly aggressive and giving up points. "He's not letting guys in on his legs like the last time. He's shown improvement."

The next one will be at state. Hartzler (32-6) competed in Des Moines a year ago, but didn't reach the podium. The plan is to return with hardware.

"I'm going down to do what everybody is trying to do," Hartzler said. "I'm going down to win the state tournament."

Linn-Mar will try to contend for a team trophy at the state meet. Seven qualifiers were expected on paper, but Streicher wanted to see others emerge.

"We knew by seeds we had seven in the top two and others in the three, four, five range and hope they make a name for themselves and step up," Streicher said. "We just didn't get that done.

"We'll take what we get out of who we had wrestle today and get ready for next week."

Cedar Rapids Xavier matched Linn-Mar with four champions. The Saints doubled the number of qualifiers from last year with Clint Lembeck (132) and 170-pounder Sean Ickes making a return trip. Third-ranked Nick Drahozal (145) and No. 9 heavyweight Cole Turner added titles.

"I'm really happy for all four of them," Xavier Coach Ryan Chambers said. "We had a good final round."

Clint Lembeck, ranked fourth, posted his second win over former state champion and fifth-ranked Matt Wempen. Clint Lembeck won another tight bout between the two, scoring the decisive move in the final seconds for a 5-3 victory.

"I just tried to get a quick takedown," Clint Lembeck said. "I really practiced that with my dad about how to do it right."

The Xavier sophomore didn't get on the board until the last 10 seconds of the second period. He hit a long sitout and cleared his hips, getting behind Wempen for a reversal. The score put him in position for a win.

"I've been hitting that through my middle school career," Clint Lembeck said. "It's my signature move on bottom. ... It came through again."

Cedar Rapids Kennedy advanced two through to state, including 113-pound champion Nolan Hromidko. The fifth-ranked Cougar improved to 31-7, beating Linn-Mar's No. 6 Noah Ajram, 7-1, in the finals.

"I had to wrestle Ajram twice in a row this season," Hromidko said. "After a while, I kind of knew what he was going for. I just developed what I needed to do."

The victory was fulfilling, who missed the postseason last year as a freshman. He said he hopes this provides a favorable draw and a chance to knock off higher ranked foes.

"I didn't get to experience it last year," said Hromidko, who will be joined at state by 126-pound teammate Logen Rodriguez. "I can't wait to go down to state and maybe surprise some people."

Cedar Rapids Washington's Trey Schuler qualified for the state meet with a runner-up finish at 138.

The top two wrestlers at each weight advance to the 2A state tournament Feb. 20-22 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

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