Southeast Polk outlasts Waukee Northwest and Waverly-Shell Rock to win Class 3A state wrestling title

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

The Waverly-Shell Rock wrestling team’s motto for the 2021-22 season was a simple four-word phrase — “Come And Take It” — that was both a nod to history and perhaps a challenge to Iowa's other Class 3A power programs. 

The Go-Hawks had won three consecutive 3A state team titles, handily in both 2019 and 2020, then surviving a thriller last year over Waukee and Southeast Polk. Those three (well, Waukee Northwest this time around) again played starring roles this week, in a knockdown, drag-out fight for the 2022 championship inside Wells Fargo Arena.

This time, it was Southeast Polk outlasting both the Go-Hawks and newly formed Wolves in this three-team tug-of-war, totaling 160 points by the end on Saturday night. The Rams are champs for the fifth time in school history, and the first time since 2017.

Southeast Polk’s 160 just barely beat Waukee Northwest’s 157 and Waverly-Shell Rock’s 147. The Rams ended with one individual champ — Nate Jesuroga, at 126 pounds — but had two other wrestlers make Saturday night’s finals and all nine medalists finish in the top six at their respective weights.

MORE: Here's everything that happened Saturday at Iowa state wrestling

Nathanael Jesuroga of Southeast Polk beat Koy Davidson of Fort Dodge in their Class 3A state championship match at 126 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

That collective depth, combined with the Rams’ overall firepower — they finished with a tournament-best 15 pins, the final one coming from Jesuroga in the finals over Fort Dodge freshman Koy Davidson (while leading 19-7) — led the Rams to the top.

Waukee Northwest, made up of many of the same wrestlers who contributed to Waukee’s second-place finish last year, finished with nine medalists too, and led all 3A schools with four individual champs, as Koufax Christensen (113), Carter Freeman (120), Griffin Gammell (182) and Ben Reiland (285) all won on Saturday night.

The Go-Hawks also finished with nine medalists, led by three champs: Ryder Block (138), Aiden Riggins (160) and McCrae Hagarty (195). Jake Walker nearly joined them at 285. He led Reiland, 3-1, after scoring a takedown with 25 seconds left in the third period, but gave up a reversal and was pinned with one second left in the match.

This three-team tug-of-war was the expectation entering the weekend, after the Go-Hawks rallied to beat Southeast Polk in the 3A state duals on Wednesday, which came after the Rams muscled through Northwest, 36-26, in the semifinal round.

Southeast Polk scored 36.5 points for a 4.5-point lead after Thursday’s first sessions, then put eight wrestlers in the semifinals for a 17-point team lead. All three teams exchanged the lead throughout Friday night’s semifinal round, and the Wolves led with 133 points entering Saturday.

The Rams surged back ahead after Saturday’s first session, and entered Saturday night with a 17-point lead again. They did not relinquish it this time. Christensen and Freeman both won to bring Northwest within nine, but Jesuroga sealed it with his pin over Davidson at 126.

This thrilling battle between three heavyweight programs was just another chapter in this rivalry. Waverly-Shell Rock and Southeast Polk have now combined to win 13 team titles (out of a possible 18) since 2005. Waukee took second in both 2018 and 2021, and the same braintrust led the Wolves to a runner-up finish this week.

About an hour after Jesuroga’s victory, Southeast Polk coach Jake Agnitsch pulled out his phone. For years, he watched the Go-Hawks lord over Iowa’s largest wrestling class, but he had a one-word message after his team’s performance on Saturday night. He typed it out and posted it on Twitter.

Taken.

Redemption for Waukee Northwest's champs

The Wolves’ individual finals performances stole the show on Saturday night, and three of the title-winners earned a little bit of redemption in the process.

Christensen was the first to win, a nail-biting 1-0 victory over Prairie’s Blake Gioimo at 113 pounds. Christensen, a returning state finalist at the same weight, used savvy defense in the first and third periods, plus a mean second-period rideout to knock off Gioimo, who was 40-0 entering Saturday night.

Gammell also made a return trip at the same weight he took second at last year. He had a chance to lift Waukee to a state title in 2021, but lost to Hagarty, 3-2, in the final, which secured another Go-Hawk title. This Saturday night, Gammell capped his week by pinning Western Dubuque’s Greyson Gardner in the second period for his first title.

Reiland lost in the semifinals last season, then ultimately took fourth behind Norwalk’s Maddux Borcherding-Johnson, an All-American this past summer. This week, Reiland pinned Borcherding-Johnson in the semifinals, then recorded a late pin again over Walker in the finals, securing both a state title and crucial team points along the way.

Freeman didn’t gain redemption, but the sophomore did win his second state title by taking a thrilling finals bout over Ankeny’s Trever Anderson, a Northern Iowa-bound senior seeking his third state title. Tied 1-1 in overtime, Freeman dropped into a double and drove Anderson to his butt for two points just 15 seconds into sudden victory.

Griffin Gammell of Waukee Northwest beat Greyson Gardner of Epworth-Western Dubuque in their Class 3A state championship match at 182 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Go-Hawk champs are all multi-time winners

All three of the Go-Hawk champs secured their second individual state titles on Saturday night.

Block won as a freshman in 2020, then finished second to Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala last season. This week, he finished on top again, defeating Dowling Catholic’s Jacob Frost, 2-0, at 138. Block scored a takedown 14 seconds into the match, and it held up as the winner after Block used savvy defense to fend off Frost’s attacks.

Riggins completed a second consecutive undefeated state title run, winning this year at 160 pounds. He beat Southeast Polk’s Carson Martinson, 8-3, in the finals. The future Hawkeye wrestler went a combined 73-0 over the past two seasons, and outscored his four opponents this week by a combined 47-4.

Hagarty scored a late takedown to beat Gammell a year ago in a highly anticipated final between nationally ranked big men. This year, he did it again, scoring a pair of takedowns to win 5-2 over Bettendorf’s Bradley Hill, a returning state champ who’s ranked No. 20 nationally by MatScouts (Hagarty is ranked No. 17).

Aiden Riggins of Waverly-Shell Rock beat Carson Martinson of Southeast Polk in their Class 3A state championship match at 160 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Iowa City duo dominate again

Hunter Garvin and Ben Kueter, two star wrestlers from Iowa City, both won their third state titles on Saturday night.

Garvin, a senior from Iowa City West, blitzed through the 152-pound bracket to end his spectacular career as a four-time finalist and three-time champion. He recorded three pins and outscored his opponents 36-9 this week. In the finals, he pinned Southeast Polk’s Carter Martinson in 3:36.

Kueter, a junior from Iowa City High, cruised to his third title at 220 pounds, recording two technical falls and two pins to improve to 72-0 for his career. He pinned Dowling’s Ralston Rumley, a surprise finalist as the 7-seed, in 73 seconds on Saturday night. He will attempt to become Iowa’s 32nd four-time state champion next season.

Another dominant wrestler from just north of Iowa City, Linn-Mar's Tate Naaktgeboren, won his second state title in his third trip to the state finals. Naaktgeboren beat Pleasant Valley's Caden McDermott by a 17-1 technical fall, capping a week in which he outscored his four opponents 49-13 and averaged 12.3 points per match.

Ben Kueter of Iowa City High beat Ralston Rumley of Dowling Catholic in their Class 3A state championship match at 220 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Bettendorf’s TJ Koester wins stacked 106-pound bracket

The night actually kicked off with perhaps one of the most exciting matches of the entire 3A finals slate, and it involved a freshman stopping one of the hottest wrestlers of the tournament. 

Bettendorf’s TJ Koester won the 106-pound title with a come-from-behind 7-4 win over Fort Dodge’s Dru Ayala. Ayala scored an early takedown and led 4-2 in the third period, then Koester scored a takedown and turned Ayala for three back points in the final 44 seconds to win it.

Koester ran the gauntlet this week to win at 106. In the semifinals, he won 4-1 over Southeast Polk’s Carter Pearson, ranked No. 24 nationally. It was the third time he had beaten Pearson this season. Koester, ranked No. 23 himself, then knocked off Ayala, who had scored 30 combined takedowns in his first three state tournament matches.

Now he’s a state champion — as a freshman. 

No pressure.

Timothy Koester of Bettendorf beat Dru Ayala of Fort Dodge in their Class 3A state championship match at 106 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

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