Iowa recruit Ben Kueter eyes a full summer of wrestling, football, baseball

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Dan Gable stood behind the first-base fence here at Liberty High School on Monday night, watching the City High baseball team. He paced back-and-forth with every at-bat, not unlike how he does with wrestling meets every winter.

In the bottom of the first, a Liberty batter slaps a fastball toward right. Looks like it’ll drop for an easy single, but the 6-foot-3 star athlete playing defense gets on his horse and makes a sliding catch for the third out. Makes it look easy, too.

“Pretty good,” Gable would later say.

That star right-fielder, of course, is Ben Kueter, back in action on the baseball field just a few days after making the Under-20 men’s freestyle world team. Somewhere in-between, he squeezed in a football workout too — because why not?

“I don’t really stop,” Kueter said afterward, “but I enjoy it though.”

Iowa City High's Ben Kueter, left, won the U20 men's freestyle world team trials on Saturday in Ohio. Kueter will represent the United States at the U20 world championships in August.

This has been Kueter’s life for the last few years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Last fall, the rising-senior committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes for both wrestling and football.

Since that announcement, he has only continued to blossom in both, leading City High football to the Class 5A state semifinals in the fall, then securing his third Class 3A state wrestling title in as many seasons for the Little Hawks in the winter. He is closing in on five-star status as a football recruit, and is already a top-10 wrestling prospect.

“There are a lot of kids that aren’t in my shoes, so I’m just grateful to be healthy and that I’m able to do these things,” Kueter said in an interview with HawkCentral. “I take it day by day. I have a lot of great people in my corner. That helps. I’m very fortunate.”

Kueter’s recent wrestling accomplishment is perhaps his biggest yet. By winning the U20 men’s freestyle world team trials, he will represent the United States at the U20 world championships, set for August 15-21 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Even more impressive, still, is that Kueter has another year of high school left, making him the rare high-schooler to make USA Wrestling’s U20 world team. He will be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, on the team. He turned 18 on Tuesday.

Despite his youth, Kueter’s assessment of his performance sounded much more like someone much older and more mature. He swept his best-of-three finals series over Noah Pettigrew, a North Carolina recruit, winning 5-0 and 7-0. He widened the gap from a month earlier, when he beat Pettigrew, 4-3, in the U20 national finals.

“I think I performed well,” Kueter said. “I controlled both matches the whole time. I wasn’t really in danger. Looking back, there were a lot of opportunities where I could’ve scored but chose not to. In big matches like that, I did what I needed to do.

“I’ll definitely open it up more this summer. I need to listen to my coaches better in my matches. The times that I do listen, things work. So I need to get better at listening I guess.”

This is where things get interesting, because Kueter's summer schedule was already busy, but will now be even more full because of his newly-earned wrestling obligations.

As part of the U20 world team, Kueter will get the opportunity to wrestle at the U20 Pan-American Championships in Mexico in July. After that, training camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to prepare him for overseas competition.

In between, Kueter will mix in his baseball duties and off-season football work. City High baseball is 13-5 and ranked No. 3 in Class 4A by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association. The 4A postseason begins when he’ll be in Mexico. The first game of the 2022 football season is the week after the world championships.

“I have to be ready for both,” Kueter said.

His coaches continually emphasize the importance of keeping his body fresh so he can tackle all of his obligations. Ice baths and sauna sessions have become part of his weekly routine.

Doing so allows for nights like Monday, where he gets to just enjoy playing with his friends. City struggled generating hits dropped both games in a double-header to Liberty, but Kueter registered a few hits, a few crafty outs. He was frustrated in the losses, but grateful for the opportunity to play.

“I love going out and competing with my friends,” Kueter said. “I know my baseball days are probably numbered, so I’m just enjoying it and taking it all in day by day.”

The reminders of his future are everywhere, especially over the last few days. Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz called Kueter the day after he won the U20 world team trials, which isn’t something he routinely does with recruits.

“I was watching the new 'Top Gun,' and I looked down, saw it was Ferentz, so I left the theater and talked to him for a while,” Kueter said with a smile. “It was awesome. It was great. He was super proud of me, and it was good hearing from him.”

And then there’s Gable. Kueter’s grown up playing sports with Gable’s grandkids, and sees the coaching legend all the time — at wrestling duals, baseball games, even football practices. Earlier on Monday, Kueter joked with his mom, Tina, about how he should start working with Gable “because he knows how to beat the Russians.”

Russia has had substantial wrestling success at every age-level, especially the U20 level. Gable finished ahead of his Russian peers when he won gold at the 1971 world championships and at the 1972 Olympics (back then, they were the Soviet Union).

Gable pointed out that he could help Ben out with more than just the wrestling part of his upcoming trip, too.

That 1971 gold medal?

Gable won it in Bulgaria.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.