Three backpoints from the Night of Conflict
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Wrestling season never truly ends for many of the nation’s elite high school competitors.
It drifts from one stage to the next. From folkstyle to the Olympic styles. From competition segments to training phases.
Roll out a mat, line up another high-caliber opponent and you’ll find guys like Alex Thomsen, Ethan Andersen and Carter Happel pulling up the straps on their singlets and lacing up their wrestling shoes. Put a mat down inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena and webcast the action to the wrestling universe and you’ll captivate an audience of thousands.
That’s what the owners of IAWrestle.com did Friday night. They called it the Night of Conflict. Sixteen matches. Sixteen state champions. Sixteen nationally-ranked wrestlers.
There’s not enough space here to recap 16 storylines, so how about three?
Is Alex Thomsen the pound-for-pound No. 1 wrestler in the state?
The Underwood sophomore was one of the last admissions to the inaugural Iowa Eight squad we released in July, and some may have looked at his inclusion as a stretch. His resume included one season of high school wrestling at Iowa’s smallest classification, and there were wrestlers with longer track records and more state titles who missed the cut.
But Thomsen validated the selection later in July by earning Greco-Roman All-America honors, reaching the freestyle finals at the Cadet Nationals and rocketing up to No. 14 in the national rankings.
We don’t rank the Iowa Eight from top to bottom. If we did, though, I’m not sure who I’d put ahead of Thomsen now — at least not after Friday night.
The scoreboard only told part of the story from his 20-8 dismantling of Pennsylvania state runner-up Cole Manley, the 13th-ranked 113-pounder in the Flowrestling rankings. More impressive than the major decision was how he racked up nine takedowns.
“I want to be a guy who entertains everybody,” he said.
By my count, Thomsen used seven different attacks to register takedowns. He scored with slick stuff and he scored with brute force, too.
“I wanted my first (takedown) to be a good one,” said Thomsen, who hit Manley with a blast double-leg less than 10 seconds into the match. “I wanted to show him, ‘This is an Iowa double-leg and this is what we’re here to do.’”
Ethan Andersen is wrestling — and feeling — well again
Truth be told, Andersen would’ve rather been somewhere else Friday night. More specific, he wanted to be in Bethlehem, Penn., for Flowrestling’s Who’s Number One?
A second state championship and a Folkstyle Nationals title pushed Andersen up to No. 2 in the Flowrestling rankings during the spring. He set his sights on USA Wrestling’s Triple Crown.
But his offseason goals unraveled after a back injury in June at the Junior National Duals. He lost three times at that tournament and bowed out of the Junior Nationals in July after a third-round loss.
“I was No. 2 before the whole back thing, so I would’ve been (at Who’s Number One?)” Andersen said. “I was Snapchatting some of those guys (wrestling at Who’s Number One?) and I was like, ‘Why can’t it be Who’s No. 8?’”
Andersen doesn’t intend to stay No. 8 for long. His frustrating summer fueled what Southeast Polk assistant Jessman Smith said is the best preseason of Andersen’s career with the Rams. He’s leaner and quicker at 220 pounds than he was prior to his two state title runs.
The Missouri recruit mowed through Cadet All-American Dylan Prince for a first-period fall Friday night.
“The thing with Ethan is, he takes a lot of sharpening,” Smith said. “But when he’s sharpened up, there’s nothing sharper than him. … When we get him in the season, get him in shape, get him physically and emotionally peaked and he’s a wrecking ball.”
The road to Iowa’s four-time state championship club typically isn’t lined with potholes.
Carter Happel has one loss in 155 career high school matches. He’s a three-time state champion, a Cadet Nationals champion and a Junior Nationals All-American, who entered the Night of Conflict ranked fourth nationally.
The Lisbon senior hasn’t experienced nights like Friday at the Iowa high school level. Then again, he hasn’t run into many opponents like Jarrett Degen and Micky Phillippi, either.
“Coming in here, I was feeling pretty good about myself,” Happel said. “These two guys putting a beatdown on me will turn my head a little bit.”
In the long run, nights like Friday are probably good for Happel. The 12 minutes of mat time against nationally-ranked opponents will teach him things he can't learn in 50 bouts against Iowa preps who aren't on his level.
Degen might be the tallest 138-pounder in captivity at 6-foot-2. The three-time Montana state champion used his long limbs and leg-riding skills to wrap Happel up and expose a hot spot in his game during Degen's 9-5 win.
“I’ve always had trouble with that,” Happel said.
Phillippi, a two-time Pennsylvania state champ who’s ranked No. 2 nationally at 138, fought off a Happel shot early and wore the three-time Iowa champ out late on his way to a 12-5 win.
Happel said Friday’s bouts underlined the need to improve his shape and bottom-position skills. The next thing on his agenda, though, is a weekend visit to Cedar Falls. He plans to announce his college choice as early as next week. He’s down to Iowa and Northern Iowa.