CEDAR RAPIDS — Cory Connell has helped elevate the Eddyville-Blakesburg wrestling program to new heights.
In just his fourth year as their head coach, Connell led the Rockets to a runner-up finish at last weekend’s Class 1A traditional state meet in Des Moines. The season was capped with the school’s first ever appearance in the Iowa High School Athletic Association State Duals tournament Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“It’s a big step for the program to make it here,” Connell said. “But, we expected it.”
The Rockets entered the 1A field as the fourth seed, but lost their quarterfinal dual to Coon Rapids-Bayard, 36-33. Coon-Rapids-Bayard trailed 33-9, winning the last five weights including three pins and the final by forfeit. The loss left a bitter taste in the Rockets’ mouth, leaving them happy but not satisfied with just reaching the State Duals. Eddyville-Blakesburg suffered just its second loss to a 1A team and ended the season 21-3.
“I think we could have done better. I knew it would be close,” Connell said. “I hate to end the season on that. We’ve had a good year, but I’m greedy. I want to win them all. I don’t like losing.”
Connell has been influenced by some of the best high school and college coaches in Iowa. He was a state champion for Iowa City High and Little hawks Coach Brad Smith. He then wrestled for the University of Iowa before transferring to Wartburg. He praised the likes of Knights Coach Jim Miller, Iowa coaches Tom Brands, Jim Zalesky and Dan Gable as well as his prep coach.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of good coaches,” Connell said. “Brad Smith was the reason I wanted to become a coach, growing up I looked up to him.”
Connell has turned around a program that didn’t experience much success with his arrival. Fans were ecstatic about the 17th-place finish in Connell’s first year, but he demanded more. The Rockets followed with three straight top-10 finishes, including their latest trophy-winning performance.
“Coach Connell has had a big impact on us, because he came in here when we were freshman,” Rockets two-time state champion Dimitri Boyer said. “He just pushed us throughout all our of our years. He’s done a great job.”
Brad Smith, Class 1A State Duals, Coon Rapids-Bayard, Cory Connell, Dan Gable, Dimitri Boyer, Eddyville-Blakesburg, IHSAA, Iowa City High, Jim Miller, Jim Zalesky, Rockets, Tom Brands, University of Iowa, Wartburg, Wrestling