The Council Bluffs Wrestling Classic has evolved into one of the toughest high school wrestling tournaments in the Midwest.
This past weekend, three nationally-ranked teams competed — per Intermat: No. 26 Liberty (MO), No. 30 Millard South (NE) and No. 43 Fort Dodge — as well as a bunch of other top-tier programs from five different states. Many of the country’s best high school wrestlers were in action.
In all, four Iowa teams finished in the top-10 — Fort Dodge took third, behind Liberty and Millard South. Waukee took sixth, Underwood eighth and Iowa City West 10th. Another four finished inside the top-20, and each had strong moments during the two-day event.
The Council Bluffs Wrestling Classic was the big draw during Week 2 of the 2019-20 Iowa high school wrestling season, but many other tournaments featured intriguing results.
It was another busy weekend. Here are 14 things we learned from Week 2:
1. Fort Dodge is a true contender in Class 3A, maybe even a favorite. A week after finishing third at the Cliff Keen Independence Invitational, the Dodgers again claimed the bronze spot in Council Bluffs.
Their performance was highlighted by Drake Ayala’s title at 120 pounds, but another six Dodger wrestlers finished in the top-five at their respective weights. Even more, all 14 contributed some manner of bonus points. They led the tournament with 42 total pins, one more than Millard South and four more than Liberty.
It’s no secret that Fort Dodge is one of the state’s best this season, but the last two weeks have only bolstered that claim. The fun continues in Week 3, as the Dodgers host Southeast Polk, which is ranked No. 19 nationally by Intermat, in a dual on Thursday.
All eyes will be on that one.
2. Ayala’s run to first was vintage Ayala. The junior has been arguably the state’s best for a while and he showed why again this weekend, going 8-0 with four pins, two technical falls, a major decision and a 5-3 win over Totino-Grace’s (MN) Joey Thompson in the finals.
Thompson, a South Dakota State recruit who’s included in various national rankings, took Ayala to the wire in last year’s Council Bluffs finals. Ayala won then 5-4, his only match last season that went the distance.
This year, Ayala won again, and while the 5-3 score doesn’t look dominant, it doesn’t indicate how good Ayala was. He dictated the pace and controlled the match from start to finish. Thompson got in on maybe two shots all match.
It wasn't flashy, but it was sound. Ayala is very good, but we knew that. He's ranked No. 2 nationally by MatScout for a reason.
3. Waukee looked impressive in taking sixth. The Warriors have been included in a few national polls this season and have grown into a consistent 3A player in recent years. They showed why in Council Bluffs.
The most impressive part was their heavier weights — specifically, Griffin Gammell (182), Cael Thorson (220) and Conner Arndt (285). Those three combined to go 16-3 with 13 pins. Gammell reached the finals, while Thorson and Arndt both took third.
Waukee has more guys who will contribute points — Cody Anderson (152) and Thurman Christensen (120) both finished in the top-six this weekend — but the progression of a few more guys will be necessary to enter 3A’s top tier.
4. I’ve been high on Underwood since this past summer, and while the Eagles took just eighth in Council Bluffs, nothing has changed the thought that they are very much a key player in Class 1A this season.
The bulk of Underwood’s points came from five guys: Gable Porter (106), Stevie Barnes (120), Logan James (138), Nick Hamilton (145) and Blake Thomsen (152). All finished in the top five at their respective weights. Collectively, those five went 33-4. Porter and Hamilton both took first.
Those five will carry the Eagles this year. All of them are legit 1A title and finalists contenders. Five finalists would absolutely put Underwood in title contention in February, but bonus points and other contributions from the rest of the team will be necessary if they want to win it.
5. Ames’ Gabe Greenlee looked great at heavyweight. Greenlee went 7-0 with six pins — including three in the first period — to win in Council Bluffs. In the finals, he pinned Mill Valley’s Ethan Kremer, a past freestyle All-American, to win. He’s now 13-0 with 10 pins this year, and looked every bit like a title contender over the weekend.
6. Final thought from Council Bluffs: Northern Iowa recruit Jared Simma was in action, taking second at 160. The junior led the tournament with seven pins, including six in the first period. His finals match was thrilling 8-7 loss to Liberty’s Drake Smith. Simma nearly had the match-winning takedown twice in the final minute of the third period. Panthers are getting a good one.
7. At the South Tama County Duals, Solon went 3-2 and took third. In doing so, Spartan coach Blake Williams reached 400 career dual victories, something less than 20 coaches all-time have ever done (the state association’s records weren’t fully updated as of this weekend).
(Omaha Burke won it, followed by Independence, if you were curious.)
8. Ankeny Centennial went 5-0 to win its own dual tournament. In doing so, Jay Groth surpassed 100 dual victories as Centennial’s coach. He, too, is climbing toward 400. Again, records aren’t official, but we can safely say Groth is well above 350 career dual wins.
9. Waverly-Shell Rock won its own Title Town Duals, and the most intriguing matchup came in the finals. The Go-Hawks beat Bettendorf, 38-30, in a battle of 3A’s best. Waverly won eight of 14 bouts and scored two pins, two technical falls and a big major decision from freshman Ryder Block over Bettendorf’s Dustin Bohren at 106.
10. Johnston looked great at its own Frank Baltzley Invitational. The Dragons ran away with the team title, scoring 227.5 points to beat Ankeny (188), Indianola (169.5) and West Des Moines Valley (167.5). Three Johnston wrestlers won titles, and another six placed fourth or better. They might be a sneaky team to watch in 3A.
11. A battle of two No. 1-ranked wrestlers highlighted the Riverside Invitational in Oakland. In the finals at 126 pounds, West Sioux's Adam Allard, 1A's No. 1 at 126, beat Logan-Magnolia's Hagen Heistand, 1A's No. 1 at 120. Allard scored a takedown midway through the first, then added an escape the third. Heistand scored on a pair of stall calls in the final 40 seconds. The final score: 3-1, Allard.
Logan-Magnolia won the team title over Creston, West Sioux, as well as Nebraska's Papillion. That's another sneaky good team.
12. Don Bosco fielded a full lineup at the Keith Vry Invitational at Aplington-Parkersburg and showed how tough they are when everybody goes. The Dons lapped the field, scoring 308.5 points (Crestwood hit 207.5 for second) and had nine champs and three other finalists.
It wasn’t the toughest competition, but that means you’d expect Don Bosco to roll the way it did.
13. One dual from last week was Southeast Polk’s 46-26 win over Ankeny. Fun dual, overall. Began at 220 pounds, and Ankeny led 26-22 after Sam Kallem’s pin over Carson Martinson at 145. Then the Rams rattled off five-straight wins, including four by fall, to clinch.
14. There were a few girls’ wrestling tournaments this weekend, too. Waverly-Shell Rock hosted 70 girl wrestlers and Des Moines East hosted another 28. There have been others, both last week and this weekend, and more are coming up this season.
The growth of girls’ wrestling in Iowa and around the country has been well-documented, but this year has seen an explosion in participation numbers. Currently, 489 Iowa girls are registered and eligible to compete for the 2019-20 season, per Trackwrestling, an uptick from the 188 last season.
More are coming, too.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal