IOWA CITY, Ia. — The crowd here inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena was mostly decked out in black and gold. This was to be expected, of course. This is their home, and on Saturday night, they introduced two future tenants to the magic this place can sometimes produce.
Flowrestling’s Who’s Number One, the premiere showcase event featuring the best high-school wrestlers in the country, electrified Carver on this night. Two competitors, Jesse Ybarra and Patrick Kennedy, both Iowa recruits, put on a show, and the fans embraced them with full-throated roars.
The dual-style competition, in its seventh year, helps decide the No. 1-ranked wrestlers in Flowrestling’s high school rankings. Ybarra and Kennedy both won their matches — Ybarra at 120 pounds, Kennedy at 170 — giving the Hawkeyes two top-ranked recruits in its 2020 class.
The official announced attendance was 2,558, per Flowrestling’s Willie Saylor, but when Ybarra and Kennedy were on the mat, it looked, felt, and sounded much bigger and much louder.
“The crowd was incredible,” said Ybarra, a senior at Sunnyside High School in Arizona. “Even during the match. Usually, I zone out during the match and hear nobody but my coaches, but the crowd was crazy. I heard them the whole match. I love it.”
Added Kennedy: “I felt it right away when I heard my future teammates say, ‘Let’s go Hawks.’ I was like, yeah, this is Carver. This is going to be a fun four years competing here. I’m excited.”
It helped, too, that both guys gave the crowd reasons to erupt, winning close matches on opposite halves of the dual.
Ybarra was the third match out, and won 3-1 over Jakason Burks, a Nebraska native and Oklahoma State commit. After a scoreless first period, they traded escapes and stall warnings, but with 10 seconds left in the third period, Ybarra dropped from an underhook into an outside single and ran through Burks near the edge for a takedown. That brought the crowd to its feet.
“He was tired,” Ybarra said afterward. “As soon as he got tired, I knew I had to pick up the pace. Just go, go, go. That’s what went through my head. A little Iowa style. I know he likes Greco, but I didn’t think he was going to throw me. I wasn’t scared to tie-up and wrestle him there.
“The crowd was great. This feels way better than I thought it would, honestly. Once i took him down, I saw the time and heard the crowd, and it all hit me. I felt it. Man. It feels good. One of the best feelings.”
Kennedy was the penultimate match. The senior at Minnesota’s Kasson-Mantorville squared off with Michigan prep Alex Facundo, a two-time Cadet freestyle world medalist who is considered the nation’s No. 1 2021 recruit. Flowrestling billed it as one of the night’s main events.
In the first period, Kennedy scored a takedown on a slick ankle pick that he ultimately brought up and finished near the edge. Entering the third, Kennedy’s lead was 3-2 after a couple of Facundo escapes. Some savvy defense helped Kennedy keep Facundo at bay, and with 30 seconds left, he hit another ankle pick and finished the same way for a 5-2 victory.
“You don’t see many guys get to his legs, so those two takedowns I had, they had to be slow and controlled,” Kennedy said. “You have to be strong and confident in those positions.
“I just hand-fought him hard enough, and then he let up for a split second, and that’s when they opened up.”
The crowd exploded on both scoring sequences. It helped, too, that nearly 100 people from the Kasson-Mantorville community made the three-and-a-half hour drive for support. Kennedy stood up and took in the moment after the referee raised his hand.
Both were greeted by different Iowa wrestlers after their match — Alex Marinelli came down to see Kennedy while Spencer Lee was there for Ybarra. Pictures were taken. Hugs were exchanged. They talked shop and technique, all while wearing smiles.
“That crowd was insane,” Ybarra told Lee. He, of course, knows a thing or two about giving Carver something to cheer about. He cracked a grin.
“Dude, you have no idea,” Lee responded. “Just wait until you get here.”
ISU's Echemendia shows freestyle brilliance
Anthony Echemendia, the newly-signed Iowa State wrestler, also competed and was embraced by the Iowa-heavy crowd. He took on Josh Saunders, a Missouri native and Cornell commit, in a freestyle — the Olympic style that closely resembles collegiate wrestling — exhibition midway through the night.
And Echemendia, a 2019 graduate of Sunnyside High School, showed why the Cyclones worked so hard to add him to the program.
The native Cuban defeated Saunders by a 10-0 technical fall in 3:36. Echemendia, a 2019 Junior national champ in both freestyle and Greco-Roman this past summer, scored three takedowns in the first period, including one that rolled right into a leg-lace for an 8-0 lead. He added another takedown in the second to finish an impressive win.
“I was looking forward to this match for a long time,” Echemendia said afterward. “I was really excited. He’s a great wrestler. I came here to leave my heart on the mat. You never know if you’re going to win, but I’m going to give my heart in every match.”
He was coached by current Cyclone wrestler David Carr, who won a Junior freestyle world title earlier this summer. Iowa State coaches Kevin Dresser and Brent Metcalf were also both in attendance to watch their future star.
It will be interesting to see how he takes to folkstyle, but based on his neutral attacks, he has the look of a wrestler who can contribute immediately to the Cyclones.
Takeaways from the other matchups
132: Shayne Van Ness emerged from a 4-man bracket to become the No. 1 at this weight. The New Jersey native beat Nebraska commit Dom Serrano, 16-6, then took out previous No. 1 Jesse Mendez of Indiana, 10-9, in the final match of the evening. Mendez beat N.C. State commit Ryan Jack, 9-8, in the other semifinal.
113: Arizona State commit Richard Figueroa beat New York prep Stevo Poulin, 8-1, in a battle of 2019 Cadet world-teamers. Figueroa led 4-1 in the first after a takedown and turn, and never looked back.
145: Ohio prep Victor Voinovich ultimately pinned California phenom Jesse Vasquez in the second period. Vasquez led 4-1 after two first-period takedowns, then Voinovich took top to start the second, turned Vasquez to tie the match 4-4, then turned him again for the fall in 3:42.
152: Sonny Santiago, another Arizona State commit and California native, scored two takedowns to defeat New Jersey prep Travis Mastrogiovanni, 5-3. One in the first period, then another in the third while already leading, 3-2.
160: Missouri commit Keegan O’Toole used a second-period flurry to tech Ohio prep Paddy Gallagher, 12-1. In a freestyle match, Gallagher led 1-0 after a step-out in the first, then O’Toole scored a takedown and three turns to lead 8-1. He added two more exposures to finish it.
126: Penn State commit Robbie Howard won this all-New Jersey battle, 4-2, over Trevor Mastrogiovanni, another future Oklahoma State Cowboy. Another freestyle match, Howard scored a quick takedown and turn to lead 4-0 in the first. Mastrogiovanni added two step-outs, but couldn’t muster much else.
138: Penn State commit Beau Bartlett dispatched Ryan Sokol, a 2019 Cadet world-teamer and former Iowa commit, by a 6-3 score. Bartlett scored two takedowns and a reversal. Sokol held his own with stout defense and solid shots, but couldn’t finish. The crowd also embraced Sokol, which was cool to see.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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Flowrestling’s Who’s Number One
132 semifinal: Jesse Mendez (IN) over Ryan Jack (CT), 9-8
132 semifinal: Shayne Van Ness (NJ) over Dom Serrano (CO), 16-6
120: Jesse Ybarra (AZ) over Jakason Burks (NE), 3-1
113: Richard Figueroa (CA) over Stevo Poulin (NY), 8-1
145: Victor Voinovich (OH) over Jesse Vasquez (CA) by fall, 3:42
65-kg: Anthony Echemendia (AZ) over Josh Saunders (MO), 10-0
152: Sonny Santiago (CA) over Travis Mastrogiovanni (NJ), 5-3
160: Keegan O’Toole (WI) over Paddy Gallagher (OH), 12-1
126: Robbie Howard (NJ) over Trevor Mastrogiovanni (NJ), 4-2
138: Beau Bartlett (PA) over Ryan Sokol (MN), 6-3
170: Patrick Kennedy (MN) over Alex Facundo (MI), 5-2
132 final: Shayne Van Ness (NJ) over Jesse Mendez (IN), 10-9