When Gabe Christenson was 10 years old, he was inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena when the Iowa wrestling team hosted Oklahoma State. It was 2012, the year Tony Ramos beat then-No. 1-ranked Jordan Oliver, sending the announced crowd of 15,400 into a frenzy.
That moment caused Christenson to think big.
“The place just erupted and it went wild,” he said. “Carver-Hawkeye was shaking. You could just feel the atmosphere. Everything was just blowing up.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want.’”
Christenson, a junior at Southeast Polk, announced his commitment to the Iowa wrestling program. He is the fifth wrestler, and third in-state prospect, to join the Hawkeyes’ 2020 recruiting class. He picked Iowa over Iowa State.
A rising recruit on the national scene, Christenson projects at 197 pounds. He is among the top 20 nationally at 195 pounds in all four major high school wrestling polls — 15th by both Flowrestling and The Open Mat, 17th by Trackwrestling and 19th by Intermat.
Last summer, Christenson become a double All-American at the UWW Cadet freestyle and Greco-Roman national championships, placing third in Greco-Roman and eighth in freestyle. He beat numerous nationally-ranked competitors along the way.
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Christenson is considered among the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in Iowa. He's a three-time state place-winner and won his first state title last month to cap a 35-1 season, pushing his career mark to 108-22. At the 2019 state tournament, he scored bonus points in all four matches, helping Southeast Polk to a runner-up team finish in Class 3A.
Numerous college coaches reached out to Christenson prior to his junior season, but he quickly whittled the list down to Iowa and Iowa State. The Cyclones offered an opportunity to join a team on the rise, evidenced by their success at the Big 12 Championships last weekend.
But Christenson kept thinking back to that Iowa-Oklahoma State dual, and how he wants to create moments like that during his college career. He admitted the decision was tough, but he ultimately chose to chase that dream in Iowa City.
“I was torn for a little while,” Christenson said. “I would just lay in bed and think about it — where do I want to spend the next five years? I wanted to go where these guys would fight for me and I would fight for them. I wanted to be proud to walk out and wrestle hard.
“I want to walk out in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and captivate 15,000 people. That’s the dream.”
► MORE WRESTLING RECRUITING NEWS
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- Valley's Nick Oldham commits to Ohio State
- Lisbon's Cobe Siebrecht announces commitment to Iowa
- Waukee's Anthony Zach commits to Northern Illinois
- Perry's Kaleb Olejniczak verbals to Northern Iowa
- Dowling's Greg Hagan announces commitment to Indiana
Christenson joins an already-impressive Iowa recruiting haul for 2020, which includes Mason City twins Cullan and Colby Schriever. Cullan Schriever is a two-time state champion and a two-time Iowa Eight selection who is ranked 13th nationally and won a Junior freestyle national title last summer. Colby Schriever is a two-time state medalist who reached the 3A state finals last month.
Joining them is Minnesota standout Patrick Kennedy, a five-time state medalist and three-time champion ranked seventh nationally at 182 pounds by The Open Mat, and Arizona prep Jesse Ybarra, a 2018 Cadet freestyle national champion who’s ranked 13th nationally at 126.
Christenson becomes the latest Southeast Polk wrestler to join the Iowa program. The most notable of late have been Cory Clark, a four-time All-American and 2017 NCAA Champion at 133 pounds, and Alex Meyer, a 2016 All-American at 174.
In the room still is Aaron Meyer, Alex’s younger brother, and Keegan Shaw, who became Iowa’s starter at 174 pounds for a time in January. Christenson talked with both during his recruiting process, as well as Southeast Polk assistant Jessman Smith, a two-time All-American for Iowa.
In February, Christenson mimicked Clark after winning a state title. He defeated Waverly-Shell Rock’s Brayden Wolf, 12-2, then promptly threw Smith in celebration. It was eerily similar to how Clark threw Iowa’s associate head coach Terry Brands after winning his national title.
Less than a month later, Christenson decided on Iowa, posting a tweet for all to see on Wednesday night. He said it was a step closer toward making that childhood dream come true.
“I just knew that this was something I wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Christenson said. “It’s the University of Iowa. If you want to win gold medals and win titles, you go to the University of Iowa. That’s what you do.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.