Ankeny’s Caleb Rathjen one of six Iowa prep wrestlers to earn Cadet freestyle All-American honors
As it turns out, Caleb Rathjen’s state finals appearance back in February was just a foreshadowing of much bigger things ahead.
The rising sophomore at Ankeny proved his mettle at the Class 3A state tournament, where reached the 113-pound finals after battling injury for most of the year. Then a freshman, he nearly pulled off an upset when he locked up Valley’s Nick Oldham in a cradle in the second period, but Oldham weathered the move and won, 10-8.
This past weekend, in Fargo, North Dakota, Rathjen showed the rest of the country just how good he is. Rathjen placed second at 120 pounds at the 2018 Cadet men’s freestyle national championships, often considered one of the toughest high school wrestling tournaments in the country.
"There's going to be highs and lows in wrestling. I figured that out this summer," Rathjen said. "I had some highs and lows. Obviously, this was a high — other than that last match."
Rathjen lost only to Arizona’s Jesse Ybarra in the finals by a 4-2 score. Prior to their meeting on Monday afternoon, Rathjen lit up his opponents during the weekend’s preliminary rounds, as he navigated six others in order to meet Ybarra, who’s ranked No. 16 nationally at 120, in the finals.
This was Rathjen’s second-straight All-American finish, as he finished seventh at 106 pounds a year ago before he even walked the halls at Ankeny High School. Perhaps that, too, was a sign of what was coming.
This year, Rathjen was an absolute terror, outscoring his first six opponents 58-6 en route to Monday’s finals. He won five of those matches by technical fall, and didn’t allow a point in four of them.
In the semifinals, Rathjen met Missouri’s Teague Travis, which Flowrestling tabbed as the No. 6 overall 2021 prospect in the country. Rathjen, ranked No. 67, won by 12-2 technical fall, punctuated by a massive five-point throw in the second period, which you can see below.
"I wrestled more my style this weekend," Rathjen said. "I let it fly. I wasn't tense. I didn't overthink anything, wrestled me, wrestled smart, wrestled my style."
Against Ybarra, Rathjen simply ran into an opponent that wouldn't break position. Ybarra scored two takedowns in the first period, and didn’t fall for any of Rathjen’s head snaps, setups or fakes. Rathjen caught both of Ybarra’s ankles for a takedown in the second, but couldn’t score again.
"He held position really well," Rathjen said. "It was hard to set up shots. As the match wet on, I felt him open up. I had quite a few scoring opportunities that I didn't take advantage of in the second period. Just didn't fire off as many shots."
An All-American finish last summer and a state runner-up showing in February both served as a springboard for Rathjen’s finals run in Fargo this weekend. Only time will tell where the Ankeny star will go after his stellar performance this weekend.
"My first high school season and this summer have been a good experience," Rathjen said. "I think it'll be good for having all of this experience going into next season."
We have seen the future, and his name is Carter Fousek
Each of the last few years, the Cadet freestyle national tournament has provided a glimpse of future Iowa high school wrestling stars. This year was no different, as Carter Fousek, a rising freshman at Crestwood, reached the national finals at 94 pounds.
Fousek, a highly-touted middle school wrestler — he won five AAU Iowa state titles, absolutely blew through his competition en route to the national finals. He won his first five matches all by technical fall, outscoring his opponents by a combined 58-6. Two of those matches were done in under a minute, and only one even reached the second period.
In the finals, Fousek ran into California’s Maxximus Martinez, who in addition to possessing a great wrestling name also possesses stellar wrestling ability. Martinez beat Fousek 6-2, using a takedown and two gut wrenches in the first period and strong ties in the second to stop the Fousek freight train.
Fousek first proved his chops at the Cadet National Duals last month, when he went a combined 14-1 between both freestyle (7-0) and Greco-Roman (7-1), the Olympic disciplines. He followed up with his run to the finals in Fargo. He will undoubtedly be a name to watch on the Iowa high school wrestling scene, in 2018-19 and beyond.
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O’Brien, Ayala, Walker also make the podium
Three other boys’ freestylers also became All-Americans this week: Linn-Mar’s Brandon O’Brien, Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont’s Sage Walker.
O’Brien, who competed at 88 pounds, took fourth after he went 5-2. He won twice to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to Minnesota’s Jore Volk, 10-3. O’Brien bounced back with three-straight wins to reach the third-place match, but fell 7-5 to Arizona’s Tristan Safford. O’Brien is now a two-time Cadet freestyle All-American — he placed sixth last year at the same weight.
Ayala, a returning Cadet freestyle national champion, ended up fourth at 106 pounds. The rising-sophomore at Fort Dodge won the 88-pound title last summer, and looked prime to repeat in the early rounds again this weekend.
Ayala, the Class 3A state runner-up at 106 back in February, blitzed the opposition en route to the national semifinals, winning his first five matches by a combined 59-13. He then ran into a buzzsaw in Wisconsin’s Nicolar Rivera, losing 11-0. Rivera ultimately won the weight, and Ayala bounced back to take fourth on Monday afternoon.
Walker finally got to flash his ability on the big stage. As a sophomore in 2017-18, he failed to make it out of Class 2A’s District 6 at 145 pounds after earning a state medal as a freshman. This weekend, Walker reached the semifinals at 170, winning his first four matches by a combined score of 41-8. He dropped three-straight matches to finish sixth.
Bentley finishes fifth in girls’ freestyle
The lone Iowa representative in the Cadet girls’ freestyle brought home some hardware, as Jayden Bentley took fifth at 144 pounds in the Cadet girls’ freestyle national championships.
Bentley, who wrestled just three matches for Waterloo East during the 2017-18 season (according to Trackwrestling), went 3-2 for the tournament this weekend. She won twice to reach the semifinals, outscoring her first two opponents by a combined 31-17.
She nearly reached the finals, leading Washington’s Nevaeh Cassidy 13-8 late in the second period of her semifinal bout. But Cassidy responded by taking Bentley to her back and locking up the pin, sending Bentley to the wrestlebacks.
Bentley lost once more before beating Khaila Hughes of Illinois, 12-0, in the fifth-place bout. Strong way to end a very nice weekend.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.