Southeast Polk wrestler Ryker Graff leads Team Iowa at 16U Greco-Roman national championships
Ryker Graff is taking the road less-traveled when it comes to building his wrestling résumé.
That road? Greco-Roman wrestling.
It is the less-popular of the two Olympic wrestling disciplines (the other: freestyle, which closely resembles folkstyle, which is contested during the high school season). It’s at least less popular in the United States, a hyper-niche style in an already-niche sport.
But Graff, a rising-sophomore at Southeast Polk, is among those who love it — which makes sense because he’s good at it.
On Thursday, Graff took second at the Under-16 Greco-Roman national championships. He went 6-1 overall over the last two days for a runner-up finish at 106 pounds inside North Dakota State's FargoDome.
Graff’s finals appearance was the highlight of Team Iowa’s overall performance in the 16U greco competition, the fifth of six tournaments at USA Wrestling’s 16U and Junior national championships, which has run all week in Fargo. It is the biggest high school wrestling competition in the world, with 6,647 wrestlers across the six tournaments.
Iowa finished with eight All-Americans and took fifth in the 16U greco team race. The eight All-Americans are the second-most Iowa’s ever had in the 16U/Cadet greco national tournament, and fifth place is the second-highest team finish ever. (Iowa won the team title with 9 All-Americans in 2006.)
This strong showing was a continuation of what’s been a banner week for Iowa high school wrestling.
On Sunday, Iowa’s 16U women’s freestyle team won the national team title for the first time ever. On Monday, two 16U men’s freestylers won individual titles. On Tuesday, the Junior men’s freestyle team won the team championship with four national champs. On Wednesday, three more Iowa women wrestlers became Junior All-Americans.
On Thursday, another group of talented young Iowa high-schoolers added their names to this week’s still-growing list of All-Americans.
A trio of Bondurant-Farrar wrestlers finished on the podium in 16U greco. Connor Fiser and Maximus Riggins both earned double All-American honors this week — Fiser, a rising-junior, took eighth in freestyle and fourth in greco at 113 pounds; Riggins, a rising-sophomore, took fifth in freestyle at 126, then dropped to 120 for greco and took sixth.
The third Bluejay wrestler: Nolan Fellers, who is an incoming freshman. He took third at 132 pounds with a 7-1 record that included three pins and four technical falls. He went 13-3 overall between both styles this week, narrowly missing the freestyle podium.
Fort Dodge’s Damarion Ross had perhaps the most impressive showing of any Iowa wrestler. After a first-round loss — he was pinned while leading 5-2 — Ross won nine consecutive matches in the wrestlebacks to take third at 152 pounds. He outscored those nine opponents by a combined 58-2.
Linn-Mar’s Kane Naaktgeboren and Osage’s Tucker Stangel both earned All-American honors at 138. Both reached the semifinals, then ended up wrestling each other for fifth. Naaktgeboren won 12-5, thanks to seven unanswered points in the second period.
Another Ram wrestler, Mike Slade, took fifth at 170, finishing 6-2 overall with a pin and four technical falls. He has blossomed into one of Iowa’s top young wrestlers this summer — he also went undefeated at the 16U national duals last month and was just one victory shy of becoming a freestyle All-American, too.
Graff’s week went similarly. He finished 3-2 in freestyle between Saturday and Sunday, then stormed into the greco finals on Thursday. He recorded four technical falls in his first six greco matches and outscored those six opponents 45-2. (He lost to Oregon’s Jeremiah Wachsmuth, 6-0, in the finals.)
His greco résumé is becoming impressive. Last year, Graff took third at the 15U greco national tournament, then seventh at the 16U national tournament. This past May, he finished fourth at the U17 greco world team trials in Las Vegas.
Last month, Graff went 7-1 in Team Iowa’s championship run at the Junior greco national duals. He had arguably the highlight of the tournament, a five-point throw for a technical fall win that ultimately iced Iowa’s 34-31 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota in the finals. It was Iowa’s first-ever greco title at the Junior national duals.
One reason why Iowa won that week in Oklahoma was because of the leadership of Dylan Carew, Iowa USA Wrestling’s head greco coach. The Iowa City West grad won two 16U greco national titles himself, in 2006 and 2007. On Thursday, Carew was named USA Wrestling’s 2022 Youth Developmental Greco Roman Coach of the Year.
Carew is also the head coach at Big Game Wrestling Club, based in North Liberty. He routinely emphasizes and teaches greco during the spring and summer seasons. Many of his wrestlers have found success in greco, like Wyatt Voelker, a Junior greco national champ; Hunter Garvin, a U20 world team trials finalist; and Naaktgeboren this year.
Another one of his wrestlers?
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.