State Wrestling: 1A/3A First Round
By Rob Gray and Josh Christensen, Reporters
DES MOINES, Iowa — As J.C. Vercande clutched his first state wrestling championship trophy for Williamsburg last year, his stepbrother, Skylar St. John, watched.
One day, St. John figured, that could be him — and the Prairie junior is convinced his time is now.
“It was great to see him win,” said St. John, who is ranked fifth in Class 3A at 145 pounds and helped the Hawks score a second-best 25 points in Thursday’s state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. “It just makes me want it more and more after seeing my brothers do it.”
Yes, that’s brothers, plural.
Wrestling fans in Iowa and across the country are well-acquainted with Derek St. John — who won two state titles for Iowa City West, placed second for Iowa at 157 in last year’s NCAA Championships, and currently ranks No. 1.
Skylar St. John seeks to become a first-time place-winner and saw training partner and Prairie 138-pounder Trey Blaha pin his first-round opponent.
“He has a great work ethic,” St. John said of Blaha. “He pushes me to my limits and day-by-day we get better.”
St. John (39-9) faced a stern test in round one, outlasting No. 7 Corey Abernathy of Waverly-Shell Rock, 6-3.
“Just had to stay focused in my offense,” St. John said. “Gotta focus on each match.”
The Hawks trail favorite Southeast Polk by 8 1/2 points.
Linn-Mar stands fourth with 23 points and Iowa City West is tied for eighth with 14 points.
The Lions got first-round pins from top-ranked wrestlers Joel Northrup (145) and Ross Lembeck (152).
Another Linn-Mar No. 1, 120-pounder Alijah Jeffery, won by major decision, as did fourth-ranked 126-pounder Damon Griffith and No. 4 113-pounder Matt Wempen.
“It’s good to get the first one out of the way because then you feel the environment of the tournament,” said Wempen, who won the title at 106 last season. “Once you get that first one out of the way, it’s a roll from there.”
West’s Chris Walters, ranked No. 2 at 126, rolled up a 17-6 major decision triumph.
Two other Trojans — No. 2 Mickey Pelfrey at 195 and No. 3 Kegan Wakefield at 138 — won by fall.
“It feels like I’ve got a lot to prove still,” said Walters, a 2012 runner-up at 120.
So does St. John, who takes pride in his brothers’ accomplishments, but is carving out his own niche, while growing out a mustache.
“None of my family likes it,” he said. “So I kind of mess with them. Every day I get something about it.”
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