Prep Wrestling: Linn-Mar Wins District, Sends Dandy Dozen To State
By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter
MARION, Iowa – Linn-Mar coach Doug Streicher called it a day a little earlier than his counterparts.
You can do that when you have 12 wrestlers in the finals and none with a wrestleback match.
Streicher relaxed during life as a spectator for the fifth-place matches and wrestlebacks as the Lions had secured 12 state tournament berths and captured the team title at the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A district tournament Saturday at Marion High School. The Lions tallied 261 points, 20 more than runner-up Cedar Rapids Prairie, which qualified eight to the state meet Feb. 14-16 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The Lions set a school record for state qualifiers, breaking the old mark of nine last year.
"They will remember district for a while, but they will really remember and what goes on record boards is state," Streicher said. "We'll enjoy it for today and get back to work tomorrow."
Streicher needed a little rest Justin Green's 220-pound championship match that capped the Lions' day. Green scored a takedown as time expired to beat Dubuque Hempstead's Gannon Gremmel, 3-2.
"I knew there was short time," Green said. "I had about 10 seconds to take a shot and I counted in my head then I took a shot and finished."
The Linn-Mar crowd roared, but the celebration was halted briefly when the officials discussed the call before awarding the takedown. The fans responded again, and Streicher and Green could take a deep breath.
"That's when I knew I had it," Green said. "It was awesome."
Green quickly found his older brother, Mike, a former Linn-Mar wrestler. Mike Green was ranked as high as third his senior year, but dislocated his knee, ending his final season early. Mike Green has helped his brother train occasionally.
"He's a big inspiration to me," Justin Green said. "I give him credit for everything he's done for me, coming in and making me work hard.
"He said he's proud of me and that means a lot coming from him."
Linn-Mar hasn't had its full lineup since early December. Ross Lembeck missed extended due to time injury, declining to discuss details. He returned for the regional dual win over Clinton and then pinned both opponents Saturday.
Lembeck stopped Dubuque Hempstead's Brandon Haas in the 152-pound final in 1:38.
"It was a good match for just getting back to the room recently," Lembeck said. "It feels good to get back in there with the guys. The competition is pretty good."
Lembeck (20-1) was a state runner-up last year and is ranked No. 1 currently. He said his conditioning is good and is ready to make a run.
"I'm coming back with a little bit of experience," Lembeck said. "It will be good to get back in that finals match, and hopefully take first this time."
The Lions crowned seven champions. State champion Matt Wempen (113) and 120-pounder Alijah Jeffery kicked off the finals with first-period falls over Cedar Rapids Jefferson opponents.
Top-ranked 145-pounder Joel Northrup (47-0) outlasted Prairie's Skyler St. John, 5-1, starting the Lions run of three consecutive middleweight titles. Linn-Mar's Dakota Digmann followed Lembeck by winning the 160-pound championship. Andrew Holladay (182) also won for the Lions.
"We wrestled physical and aggressive, getting after it for the most part," Streicher said. "There were some mental lapses we need to make sure the kids are aware of for the state meet, but overall I feel good about where we're at."
Prairie had five champs; giving the Metro's top two teams all but two titles. Eight wasn't enough to satisfy a hungry Hawks team, but they still performed well.
"It was about like any district day," Prairie coach Blake Williams said. "There's good and then there's some that slipped away. You're always greedy as a coach and there is always one, two or three more. ... It is a good number."
Third-ranked Josh Wenger recorded the Hawks' first championship with an exciting win over No. 4 Damon Griffin. Wenger scored a third-period takedown to secure a 9-7 victory.
"I knew points were going to be going both ways the whole time," Wenger said. "I just had to try to capitalize on some and be smart about what I was doing."
Wenger started slow in the finals and semifinals, surrendering the opening takedown but he battled back. He scored a key reversal and caught Griffin on his back for two nearfall and a 4-2 lead in the first.
"I knew two points weren't going to make a match," Wenger said. "It was all about getting more points.
"When Damon came in with the legs I knew I had to keep getting lower, working them out. Once I did, I spun around and the arm was right there."
Wenger (33-6) has endured various injuries, including a sprained ankle in recent weeks. AT this time of year, you have to persevere.
"I don't think anyone is 100 percent healthy right now. It's too hard to be when you've had that many matches," Wenger said. "You take a beating in this sport. It's all up in your head. You go out and do what you can."
Prairie heavyweight Andrew Netolicky is returning to the state tournament with his eyes fixed on a state title. Netolicky (38-5) pinned Cedar Rapids Washington's Zac Gillis in 4:13 of the final.
The two battled to overtime in the Mississippi Valley Conference finals.
"I wanted to get on my offense right away," Netolicky said. "I didn't want to wait for him to make a mistake. I wanted to dominate the match."
Netolicky placed fifth last year and sixth as a sophomore. He has one more shot at a longtime goal.
"I've always wanted to be a state champ since I was a little kid," Netolicky said. "As long as I give it my all, I'll be happy."
Prairie's Cam Rathje (34-2) dominated his way to a 170-pound crown. He spent a total of 1:06 on the mat in two matches, pinning Linn-Mar's Luke Wempen in the final in 51 seconds.
Trey Blaha handled Linn-Mar's Shea Hartzler, 10-3, in the 138-pound finals. Casey Becker won at 195, pinning Linn-Mar's Sam Nowak in 4:41. Becker bumped up from 160 this season to help the team and he's reaped the reward. He could surprise some opponents, according to Williams.
"He's flying under the radar," said Williams, noting Becker has wrestled close matches with highly ranked wrestlers. "He's right there with those top kids. It took him a long time but he realized he could hang with the best of them."
Jefferson was third in the team standings with four state qualifiers. Michael Moncivais earned the J-Hawks only title, sticking Linn-Mar's Toby Northrup in 51 seconds of the 132-pound final. He is finally heading to Des Moines after missing it by one spot the last two seasons.
"It was great," Moncivais said. "I've been waiting since freshman year. I knew it was my time."
The J-Hawks Kyle Briggs was runner-up at 113, becoming just the second freshman in school history to qualify for the state tournament, and was joined by teammates P.J. Rashed (120) and 182-pounder Drake Allen.
Gillis was the lone qualifier for Washington.