With four individual champs, Team Iowa wins team title at Junior men’s freestyle national championships
The state of Iowa’s high-school wrestling renaissance has been building for a few years, with more and more in-state wrestlers competing and winning on the national scene.
They’ve done it individually, with national titles and age-level world-team berths. They’ve done it collectively, with two consecutive Junior freestyle national duals championships and a Junior Greco-Roman national duals crown, too.
This week, an assembly of Iowa’s top high-schoolers unveiled another masterclass performance, solidifying the state’s standing as the nation’s top destination for premiere prep wrestling.
Team Iowa eviscerated the field at the Junior men’s freestyle national championships inside North Dakota State’s FargoDome. With four individual champs and 13 total All-Americans, Iowa scored 214 team points over the three-day competition, cruising to the team title over second-place Pennsylvania (116) and third-place California (115).
The Junior men’s freestyle portion of the Under-16 and Junior national championships, USA Wrestling’s biggest national-level high school competition, is arguably the biggest of the six tournaments that occur during this weeklong wrestling extravaganza.
And Iowa completely dominated in an all-time team performance kind of way.
Iowa’s Junior national tournament team title is the 11th all-time and first since 2008. The four individual champs — Southeast Polk’s Nate Jesuroga at 120, Waverly-Shell Rock’s Ryder Block at 138, Waverly-Shell Rock’s Aiden Riggins at 160, Bettendorf’s Bradley Hill at 220 — ties for the most in state history, matching the totals from 1982 and 1983.
Behind the four champs:
- Nashua-Plainfield’s Jayden Rinken (100), Fort Dodge’s Dru Ayala (106), Linn-Mar’s Tate Naaktgeboren (182), and West Delaware’s Wyatt Voelker (195) all took third;
- Norwalk’s Tyler Harper (100) and Southeast Polk’s Joel Jesuroga (145) both took fourth;
- Bondurant-Farrar’s Reid Foster (100) and Waverly-Shell Rock’s Jake Walker (285) both took seventh;
- and Iowa City High’s Kolby Franklin earned runner-up honors, falling to Hill, 10-7, in an all-Iowa final at 220 pounds. Hill scored a pair of 4-pointers to top Franklin in a matchup that will surely unfold thousands of times more in the Iowa Hawkeye wrestling room over the next five years.
Iowa’s 13 total All-Americans — California and Wisconsin were the next closest states, with nine medalists each — ties for the second-most in state history, matching the totals from 2018, 2010, and 2008. (Iowa’s most-ever: 14 in 1978.)
Iowa’s overall demolition of the Junior freestyle field, just two days after Iowa won the 16U women's freestyle tournament, was an insanely impressive encore to last month’s sweep at the Junior National Duals in Oklahoma. But it was pieced together with some incredible individual performances between Sunday and Tuesday in North Dakota.
Three Iowans — Rinken, Harper, Foster — finished on the podium at 100 pounds. They all made the quarterfinals, then met each other in the wrestlebacks: Harper beat Foster, 14-3, in the consolation quarterfinals, then Rinken beat Harper, 14-4, for third.
Nate Jesuroga went 7-0 with seven technical falls to win his first Junior national title. He outscored his opponents 74-2. Joel Jesuroga went 9-2 overall and won seven consecutive wrestleback matches for his first All-American finish.
Ayala, Naaktgeboren and Voelker all rallied for third after tough semifinal defeats. Hill outscored his seven opponents by a combined 79-14, and Franklin outscored his first five foes 59-14 to make the final. Walker went 6-2 and rebounded from a quarterfinal loss with an emphatic 34-second pin in the bloodround to earn All-American status.
But arguably the two most impressive performances came from Ryder Block and Aiden Riggins.
Block had previously competed at Fargo twice, in 2019 as a 16U wrestler and last year as a Junior. He went 5-2 and missed the podium both times. This year, he won it all, going 7-0 and outscoring his opponents 68-14, capped by an authoritative 12-2 technical fall over Ohio’s Ismael Ayoub in Tuesday’s finals.
Riggins had taken second at every major national competition over the last four years — at the 2019 Cadet folkstyle nationals, the 2019 U15 freestyle nationals, the 2021 Cadet world team trials, and last year’s Junior freestyle nationals. This time, Riggins went out on top, with a come-from-behind 15-8 finals win over California’s Nico Ruiz.
An hour after his finals match, Riggins stood with Voelker and Naaktgeboren and Block and Ayala and the rest of Team Iowa on the staged mat inside the FargoDome, posing for pictures with the team championship trophy, all smiles for a moment years in the making.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.