EPWORTH – It was a redeeming Saturday for many area wrestlers.
For Linn-Mar’s Aalijah Jeffery, he waited about a month for this day. Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Zach Witte has suffered through a long year for it. Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Jordan Baskervillle’s career has been geared toward this moment.
All three won individual titles at the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A district Saturday at Western Dubuque High School, qualifying for the 3A state tournament Feb. 17-19 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Jeffery’s championship helped Linn-Mar capture the team title with 223 points, 15 1/2 more than runner-up Prairie, as both advance to a 3A regional dual Tuesday, Feb. 22.
Jeffery was one of three champions for the Lions. The eighth-ranked freshman avenged a loss to No. 7-ranked Trey Blaha for the 103-pound title. Jeffery used a takedown with 11 seconds remaining for a 5-3 win.
“It felt great,” said Jeffery, who improved to 37-4. “I knew I’d be able to beat him.”
Things started eerily similar as their previous match, where Blaha scored key reversals to beat him by five points. Jeffery scored the opening takedown that was answered by a reversal, which prompted a new strategy.
“That kind of changed my wrestling for the second and third period after he got the reversal,” Jeffery said. “I knew I couldn’t put in the legs.”
Out with the legs and on to the leg attack. With the score tied, 3-3, Jeffery was confident on his feet and pushed the action scoring on a single-leg takedown for the win.
“I wanted to get the win before the overtime period,” Jeffery said. “I just went with my best shot.”
The entire Linn-Mar squad seemed to give it their best shot, advancing eight to state. The Lions’ Joel Northrup added a title at 112, pinning Prairie’s Jayden Flege in 1 minute, 55 seconds. Top-seeded A.J. Garcia earned his second straight state berth with a 3-1 win over Brad Gingerich for the 215-pound crown.
The Lions were able to put their best lineup this season on the mat, and showed the ability they possess. They were strong early to claim their first dual postseason berth since 2002.
“We didn’t have a lot of kids place above their seeds, it’s just a pretty solid group we have,” said Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher, who finally welcomed back 171-pound runner-up Mitch Wantock (13-2) from injury. “It’s a matter of getting everyone in the lineup and, for the most part healthy, and wrestling decent.
“We knew the first round would be important. We thought we could get everyone through that first round and some bonus points to really make a statement.”
After reaching the state finals as a freshman, Witte placed third behind the eventual state champion and runner-up at last year’s district meet. He said it has been a long year.
“It feels good to get past this,” said Witte, who is 34-0. “Finally, now, it’s time for the big tournament. This is what I’ve been looking for all year.”
Witte blanked Linn-Mar’s Tanner Regenwether, 6-0, in the 145-pound final. He said the title ”re-energized” him to want to keep improving, looking for that goal that eluded him as a freshman and he didn’t get a chance for last season.
“I want to be at the top of the (state) podium, Witte said. “I feel strong and ready to go. It gives me confidence going into state.”
Witte’s teammate Andrew Netolicky avenged a previous loss as well. Netolicky scored a takedown in the final seconds to edge No. 2-seed Mark Atwater in the semifinals before pinning top-seeded David Demmer in 4:36 for the 189 title.
“It was pure guts,” Prairie Coach Blake Williams said about the last-second semifinal win. “Then he dominated in his final match. Give him a lot of credit for sucking it up.”
Freshman Chris Walters (119) and Cameron Rathje (152) added titles for the Hawks, who had seven state qualifiers. Prairie had more champions but couldn’t overcome Linn-Mar’s fast start. Williams said he couldn’t recall another district with so many good wrestlers and close matches.
“It was a war today. it was a battle after battle,” Williams said. “Our team effort was all right. We didn’t have a great first round. We dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
Baskerville was one of four Kennedy champions. Unlike his top-seeded teammates – Luke Kremer (135), Ryan Rodriguez (140) and Ryan Sheldon (171) – Baskerville was seeded third and beat two wrestlers he hadn’t before Saturday.
Baskerville was 0-4 against Prairie’s Peyton Wagner, but topped Wagner, 2-1, in the semifinals. Baskerville battled with Iowa City High’s Brent Hamm in the 160-pound finals before scoring a takedown on the edge of the mat for a 7-5 victory in overtime.
“I wrestled both of those guys before and I knew I was in better condition,” said Baskerville (21-12). “We had a game plan. We executed it as best as we could.”
In December, Baskerville, a senior, suffered an ankle injury that jeopardized his season. He rehabbed everyday and came back in four weeks, which was about half of the expected time out. He was determined to return to claim his first state tournament berth, which includes AAU as a youth.
“I was always one place short of going,” Baskerville said. “this is my first time. I’m pumped. I’m happy to go.”
Kremer and Sheldon survived hard-fought finals matches. Fourth-ranked Kremer (36-3) used a reversal in the final overtime tiebreaker to beat Linn-Mar’s No. 7 Ross Lembeck, 5-3. Sheldon (38-1) edged Wantock, 3-2, in one of the tournament’s toughest brackets.
Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Braxton Chicchelly earned his third trip to state and second district crown with a 12-1 win over Jeremy Severin at 130. Chicchelly (38-6) is looking for his second state medal.
“I knew I had a great opportunity to take advantage of,” said Chicchelly, who added two pins.”I worked my hardest (Saturday). I think there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Western Dubuque 125-pounder Nick Steger (38-6) and City High heavyweight Cody Donnelly (29-5) also won titles.
CLASS 3A DISTRICT
Teams – 1. Linn-Mar 223, 2. C.R. Prairie 207.5, 3. C.R. Kennedy 151.5, 4. Western Dubuque 150.5, 5. Iowa City High 123.5, 6. Dubuque Hempstead 95, 7. Dubuque Senior 72, 8. C.R. Xavier 71
103 pounds – 1. Aalijah Jeffery (LM), 2. Chase Lynn (DS); 112 – 1. Joel Northrup (LM), 2. Jayden Flege (CRP); 119 – 1. Chris Walters (CRP), 2. Bryce Lynn (DS); 125 – 1. Nick Steger (WD), 2. Zach Becicka (CRP); 130 – 1. Braxton Chicchelly (CRX), 2. Jeremy Severin (LM); 135 – 1. Luke Kremer (CRK), 2. Ross Lembeck (LM); 140 – 1. Ryan Rodriguez (CRK), 2. Josh Pederson (LM); 145 – 1. Zach Witte (CRP), 2. Tanner Regenwether (LM); 152- 1. Cameron Rathje (CRP), 2. Evan Smith (DH); 160 – 1. Jordan Baskerville (CRK), 2. Peyton Wagner (CRP); 171 – 1. Ryan Sheldon (CRK), 2. Mitch Wantock (LM); 189 – 1. Andrew Netolicky (CRP), 2. David Demmer (WD); 215 – 1. A.J. Garcia (LM), 2. Brad Gingerich (ICH); Hwt. – 1. Cody Donnelly (ICH), 2. Dakota Elledge (WD).
A.J. Garcia, Aalijah Jeffery, Andrew Netolicky, Blake Williams, Braxton Chicchelly, Cameron Rathje, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Chris Walters, Class 3A district, Cody Donnelly, Doug Streicher, Iowa City High, Joel Northrup, Jordan Baskerville, Linn-Mar, Luke Kremer, Nick Steger, Ryan Rodriguez, Ryan Sheldon, state tournament, Wrestling, Zach Witte