The Register's list of the 50 best Iowa high school wrestlers of all time
Editor's note: This story was originally published in February 2018.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association organized and unveiled the state wrestling tournament in its current format back in 1926. Marshalltown scored 18 points that year and won the single-class competition held in Ames.
In the 92 years since, Iowa has produced a long and storied history of high school wrestling. With the 2018 state tournament set for this week at Wells Fargo Arena, we attempted to name the state’s 50 best prep wrestlers.
It is a maddening exercise, of course, but here goes. The athletes were chosen based off their high school accomplishments. Any collegiate or international credentials were not considered (sorry, Tom and Terry Brands). That's a list for another time.
- See every photo from the 2019 Iowa high school state wrestling tournament
- See every photo from the 2018 Iowa high school state wrestling tournament
- See every photo from the 2017 Iowa high school state wrestling tournament
A big thanks to Andy Hamilton, the Register’s former wrestling writer who now works for Trackwrestling, for his help with these selections. In alphabetical order, we started with the top 25 and then followed with the next 25.
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Let the debate begin:
Jay Borschel, Linn-Mar Marion
Borschel went 163-1 during his run to four state titles from 2002-05. Most notably, perhaps, is that the Linn-Mar product won at 103 pounds as a freshman, and then at 171 as a senior.
Cory Clark, Southeast Polk
Before Clark’s stellar career at Iowa, he was a star for the Rams. He went 185-1 with 122 pins while also winning titles all four years. He was also won Junior national titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman the summer following his senior year.
C.J. Ettelson, Hudson
Ettelson dropped just three matches his entire career while securing 102 wins by fall. He and Don Bosco’s Mack Reiter both won their fourth state titles in 2003, the first such occurrence in Iowa high school wrestling history.
Joe Gibbons, Waterloo Columbus; Ames
Gibbons was just the fourth four-timer in state history when he won his fourth in 1981, but he was the second of five wrestlers that ultimately went on to win four titles during the 1980’s.
Carter Happel, Lisbon
Happel became the third Lisbon wrestler to win four titles in 2016, the most of any school. Happel finished his career with 209 career wins, the second-most in state history. He won his final 172 prep matches.
Eric Juergens, Maquoketa
Only three wrestlers ever from Maquoketa have won state titles. Juergens happened to win four of them from 1993-96, during which he went 144-0 during his career.
Jason Keenan, Ogden
Keenan became the first of two Ogden four-timers when he his from 1992-95, scoring 77 pins out of 119 career wins. He went on to become a rodeo professional afterward.
Jeff Kerber, Emmetsburg
Kerber became the state’s second four-time state champion 17 years after Bob Steenlage became the first. For his career, Kerber went 126-0 between 1976-79 to become just the second wrestler on record to finish a career without a loss.
Dan Knight, Clinton
Knight followed in the same footsteps as Kerber, winning four state titles from 1984-87 without surrendering a loss. He went 128-0 and won titles at 98, 112, 126 and 126 pounds.
Daniel LeClere, North Linn (Troy Mills)
LeClere won his four titles at the same time as Borschel, from 2002-05. He was just as dominant, too, going 167-2 with 105 pins.
Shane Light, Lisbon
Light became the second Lisbon wrestler to win four titles, exactly one decade after Scott Morningstar won four. His brothers, Ike and Zach, combined to win five more titles while cousin Vance also won two for Lisbon.
Jake Marlin, Creston/Orient-Macksburg
Marlin became the first four-timer from wrestling-rich Creston, and did so at the same time as Brandon Sorensen, from 2010-13. Marlin went 204-6 overall with 147 pins, good for third all-time in Iowa.
Jeff McGinness, Iowa City High
McGinness went unscathed from 1990-93, winning 172 straight matches en route to four state titles. Of his 172 victories, 111 were by fall.
John Meeks, Des Moines Roosevelt
Meeks won his four titles alongside Clark. He remains the last wrestler to post an undefeated career. He went 168-0 before heading north to Iowa State.
Nick Moore, Iowa City West
Moore went 183-1 during his career at West and won his final 151 matches. He was perhaps the most successful wrestler during the Trojans’ dominant run from 2007-10.
Scott Morningstar, Lisbon
Morningstar became the third four-timer in state history in 1980, just a year after Kerber became the second. For his career, he went 115-1-1.
Greg Randall, Mount Vernon
Randall won his fourth state title in 1982. At the time, it was the fourth year in a row that a wrestler won his fourth state title. Randall was famous for the now-popular takedown, release, takedown, release, wrestling style.
Bart Reiter, Don Bosco (Gilbertville)
In 2009, Reiter became the second Don Bosco wrestler to win four state titles. He was also the second wrestler in his family to achieve the feat — older brother Mack won four from 2000-03.
Mack Reiter, Don Bosco (Gilbertville)
Mack won his four titles while posting a 182-3 overall during his four years. He also totaled 135 pins, good for eighth all-time and 35 more than younger brother Bart.
Mark Schwab, Osage
Schwab became the sixth four-timer when he won at 119 pounds in 1985. The older brother of Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab was also a multitime Junior national champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
T.J. Sebolt, Centerville
Sebolt went 207-1 during his prep career, wherein he also won four state titles. At the time of his graduation, he was the state’s all-time leader in career wins. His mark now sits sixth.
Brandon Sorensen, Denver-Tripoli
Sorensen was one of the few wrestlers who overtook Sebolt for most career victories. En route to four state titles at Denver-Tripoli, Sorensen posted a 208-3 mark with 121 pins.
Bob Steenlage, Britt
Thirty-six years after the IHSAA sanctioned the state tournament, Steenlage muscled his way to becoming Iowa’s first four-time state champion. As a senior, he won his finals match on a referee’s decision by riding time.
Jesse Sundell, Ogden
Sundell became Ogden’s second four-timer when he won at 119 pounds in 2001. Ogden has only ever had three state champs in program history, and two of them went on to become four-timers.
Max Thomsen, Union of LaPorte City
Thomsen ended his career as the all-time wins leader with 210. Now at Northern Iowa, Thomsen lost early in his freshman season, then rattled off 199 consecutive victories.
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Royce Alger, Lisbon
Alger was yet another stellar Lisbon wrestler. Before winning national titles at Iowa, he won three state titles — his first at 126 in 1981, then at 138 in 1982, then all the way up at 167 in 1983.
Kyle Anson, Iowa City High
Anson won state titles as a freshman, junior and senior. His sophomore year, he lost to Borschel in the quarterfinals and rallied back to take third. As a freshman, he picked off Oskaloosa’s Dominick Moyer, who finished as a two-time champ.
Austin Blythe, Williamsburg
Before he was a center for the Iowa football team, Blythe produced one of the best high school wrestling careers in Iowa. He went 188-11 with 146 pins, still the fourth-most in state history. He reached the state finals four times, winning three state titles.
Bart Chelesvig, Webster City
Chelesvig won three state titles from 1985-87. He was one of the top prospects in a senior class that included the likes of Dan Knight, Mike Moreno, Mark Reiland, as well as Tom and Terry Brands.
Trey Clark, Union of LaPorte City
Clark won three state titles, all at 171 pounds and above. He is considered the second-best wrestler to come from Union, trailing only Thomsen.
Barry Davis, Cedar Rapids Prairie
Iowa’s all-time career wins leader won plenty during his prep years at Prairie. Davis won three state titles between 1978-80.
Dan Gable, Waterloo West
Before Gable ran through the Olympics without allowing a point, he was a force at Waterloo West. He won three state titles between 1964-66 and became the first Iowa high school wrestler to go undefeated for his entire career at 64-0.
Jim Gibbons, Ames
Gibbons won three state titles at Ames, posting a 76-1 career record. He won at 98 pounds in 1975, then at 105 in 1976, and as a senior, he jumped to 119 pounds and took first in 1977.
Jack Hathaway, Iowa City West
Hathaway was just a one-time champ (2011), but he was among the best during his prep career. He went 200-16 overall, compiled 137 career pins and handed Cory Clark his only high-school loss.
David Kjeldgaard, Lewis Central
Kjeldgaard has a case for the best three-timer in state history. He won his final 131 matches, where he scored 548 takedowns and allowed one. He was the No. 1 overall recruit in 1996. He was a three-time Cadet and five-time Junior national champion. He beat Cael Sanderson up in Fargo.
Gerald Leeman, Osage
Leeman won three state titles back in 1939-41. He was a little guy, winning at 105, 115 and 123 pounds. His nickname, “Germ,” came from his football exploits. Leeman died in 2008 (cancer). He was 86.
Andrew Long, Creston/Orient-Macksburg
Long won three state titles, 180 matches and was a multi-time Cadet and Junior All-American during his stellar prep career. He may have been a four-timer if he didn’t give up so much weight during his freshman year.
Brandon Mason, Lewis Central
Mason won three state titles and went 195-2 during his prep career with 123 pins. One of his two losses came against City High’s Anthony Watson at the 2002 state tournament.
Matt McDonough, Linn-Mar Marion
McDonough went 151-15 during his prep career and won three state titles. As a junior, he won the Class 3A 119-pound bracket that included two other eventual state champions in Dylan Carew and Brett Baumbach.
Cliff Moore, Dubuque Hempstead
Moore was a three-time state champ, and despite winning his titles at 112, 119 and 125 pounds, he was considered a man amongst boys on the mat.
Nate Moore, Iowa City West
Moore was a four-time finalist and a two-time champ who went 175-3 during his prep career. He also was a two-time Junior national champion, and arguably the best pound-for-pound wrestler during his junior and senior seasons.
Ryan Morningstar, Lisbon
The Iowa assistant coach followed in his dad’s footsteps and won three state titles for Lisbon from 2003-05. Morningstar went 164-4 in his career with 106 pins.
Travis Paulson, Lewis Central
Before he became a three-time All-American at Iowa State, Travis Paulson was a three-time champ for Lewis Central. He went 172-3 during his career, and a 1-0 decision loss to City High’s Cory Connell kept him from the four-timer club.
Trent Paulson, Lewis Central
This Paulson brother went 192-2 during his prep career. He also won two state titles, three Junior Greco-Roman national titles and was an All-American as a senior by Amateur Wrestling News.
Dylan Peters, Denver-Tripoli
Peters reached the finals at 103 pounds as a freshman and dropped an 8-4 decision to Forest City’s Alex Spooner. Peters never lost again, capping his career with a 199-1 record and three state titles.
Fredy Stroker, Bettendorf
Stroker ended as a four-time finalist, three-time champion with a 196-4 career record. The summer following his senior year, he beat current Iowa wrestler Pat Lugo for the 145-pound Junior national freestyle title.
Brody Teske, Fort Dodge
One of two active high-school wrestlers to make this list. Teske, a Penn State-bound senior, has taken just one career loss as he continues his hunt to join the exclusive four-time club. (Editor's note: Teske won his fourth state title Feb. 17.)
Jeff Theiler, Dowling Catholic
Theiler went 178-7-1 between 1987-90, winning three state titles along the way. He was a first-team All-American selection by Asics during his senior season and made Cadet and Junior World Teams.
Alex Thomsen, Underwood
Thomsen is the second active high-school wrestler to make the list. The Nebraska-bound senior also has just one loss for his prep career — to Teske, which he avenged a month later. (Editor's note: Thomsen won his fourth state title Feb. 17.)
Bryce West, Highland Riverside; Solon
West won three state titles between 2015-17, all at 120 pounds. He finished his career with 210 career wins (and three losses) to tie Max Thomsen for the most all time. West and his twin brother, Drew, helped Solon win the Class 2A state team title last year.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.