BELLE PLAINE — If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
That could be the perfect rule to follow for the Belle Plaine wrestling team, which routinely peaks for the postseason.
The Plainsmen begin their trek for a seventh straight sectional team title Saturday, hosting a Class 1A meet. Over 125 teams in 1A and 96 2A squads take the mat for sectional comeptition. All tournaments begin at noon.
The top two sectional placewinners advance to district meets Saturday, Feb. 14. Sectional team champion and runner-up qualify for regional dual semifinals Tuesday, Feb. 10.
Second-ranked Belle Plaine recently won its 17th straight South Iowa Cedar League title and attempts to claim its 18th sectional title in the last 19 seasons.
“Right now is when everything is clicks together,” senior Cameron Wagner said. “We start seeing the success of all our hard work in the practice room.”
Late-season success has become a constant in Belle Plaine Coach Bob Yilek’s 15-year tenure.
“They know, and we stress, the (regular) season is a prep toward the end,” said Yilek, who guided Belle Plaine to a state title sweep in 2001. “We’re getting close to the end of the season and that’s where we want to be our best.”
The last two years that has led to consecutive sixth-place state finishes, highlighted by state runner-up finishes by Cameron and Colton Wagner in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
The focus is fixed on state gold, which has eluded members of the team in previous years.
“There’s not a kid on our team who has reached their true goal,” Yilek said. “That’s driving them individually.”
The Plainsmen enter the postseason with five ranked wrestlers, led by top-ranked 130-pounder Drew Hinschberger, a two-time state placewinner and three-time qualifier.
Hinschberger was the first Plainsmen wrestler to eclipse 150 career wins with a fall over Dylan Nelson of Lynnville-Sully in the finals of the South Iowa Cedar League tournament, becoming just the third wrestler in league history to win four titles. Hinschberger, who placed third last year at 119, is 36-1 with 19 pins and the school’s all-time wins leader at 151-26.
“Drew’s had a great season,” Yilek said. “He’s chasing that dream to be a state champion.”
He’s certainly joined by the Wagner twins. Cameron is ranked second at 135 and Colton is second at 140.
“Our perfect vision would be all three of us winning the gold as seniors … finally,” Colton Wagner said. “That would be great.”
The path to the top of the state podium has some big obstacles in the form of familiar names in state wrestling history.
Cameron Wagner is at the same weight as Don Bosco’s Bart Reiter, who is favored to become the state’s 18th four-time state champion, matching older brother Mack’s feat.
Colton Wagner is ranked behind North Linn’s Chris LeClere, who attempts to join brothers, Dan and Nick, as a state champ. As for team gold, three-time defending state champion and nationally-ranked Don Bosco is a huge favorite to win again.
“It’s definitely going to be a dogfight,” Cameron Wagner said. “It’s not going to be a cakewalk.”
Colton Wagner reached the 130-pound finals last year, losing a 5-3 decision to Nashua-Plainfield’s Cody Johnston. The match provided a new perspective.
“I look at it from a whole different angle,” said Colton Wagner, who improved to 34-1 and joined Hinschberger 150 career wins Wednesday with a technical fall against Iowa Valley/HLV. “I think it made me stronger as a wrestler.”
Colton Wagner has survived the agony from losing in the finals and has been anxiously awaiting the postseason.
“It seems like it (the state finals) was a long time ago, but the actual match is fresh in my mind and that’s been really good,” Colton Wagner said. “Motivation to get back there and just keep working hard and know I’ll end up back there.”
Cameron Wagner (34-1) is two years removed from his finals appearance where he lost to Reiter. He won’t shy away from an opportunity to try and play spoiler this time.
“I have no pressure,” Cameron Wagner said. “He has to be feeling a little pressure. I have nothing to lose. I (would) just go out there and wrestle my match.”
Reiter and his Don Bosco teammates have been tagged a sure thing to win their fourth-straight traditional state title. The Plainsmen aren’t ready to concede any trophies.
“I don’t think you can if you want the kids to compete at their best,” Yilek said. “I truly believe there’s an opportunity for us to have a shot at winning the state title. Things will have to go our way.
“Is it going to be a task for us? Yeah it is, but everything in life is tough at times. You have to see what happens. If you don’t give yourself a chance, you’ll never know.”
Belle Plaine’s only blemish in competition was an opening night dual loss to Don Bosco. Since then, The Plainsmen (21-1) haven’t lost in duals or tournaments, including an impressive championship over 2A’s seventh-ranked West Delaware at the Louisa-Muscatine tournament in Letts two weeks ago.
Zakk Buch and Jack O’Brien are both ranked sixth at 103 and 119, respectively, and give Belle Plaine a legitimate shot at five placewinners. Buch is 31-2, while O’Brien has posted a 30-3 record with 101 career wins.
The key to a successful postseason run, and earning the team’s first state trophy since placing third in 2002, is a balance team performance.
“These kids are talented,” Colton Wagner said. “We’ve all worked hard. Everybody’s urging everybody to keep working harder. We always become stronger at the end of the season.”
In other 1A sectional meets, top-ranked Don Bosco will get an early test at Wapsie Valley High School in Fairbank. The field include the Dons and Tri-Rivers powers East Buchanan, No. 6 North Linn and No. 7 Alburnett. The Buccaneers and Lynx battled to the final match at last weekend’s conference tournament, won by East Buchanan.
The 2A sectional at Oelwein will feature fifth-ranked Independence and No. 8 MFL MarMac. The Mustangs and Bulldogs combine for eight ranked wrestlers, including MFL’s No. 2 Andrew Rodas and Independence’s fourth-ranked Blake Bagby at 160.
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