DES MOINES – Coaching seems to be optional for J.C. Vercande.
At least that was the case during his latest state tournament contest. Vercande ignored the strategy of his coaches and it working, pinning fourth-ranked Tre Rutz of Humboldt with 10 seconds remaining in their 130-pound quarterfinal match of the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 2A state wrestling tournament Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
Vercande said he can only hear his coaches while competing but he wasn’t listening while his coaches urged him to go for takedowns instead of riding Rutz and trying to put him on his back.
“It’s weird,” Vercande said. “Sometimes I just block them out and do what I want to do.”
Vercande trailed 6-4 after the second period. Williamsburg Coach Grant Eckenrod said the strategy was to stay on top to get back points for a minute before trying to outscore Rutz on their feet. Vercande stayed on top before finally turning Rutz to his back for the pin, making it to the semifinals and assuring himself a third straight medal.
“He just kept going and going, and got it,” said Eckenrod, noting he does let wrestlers make strategic choices. “I’m just proud of him for keeping after the guy.
“He must have known something that we didn’t, which is probably good because he probably would have loss if he had listened to me.”
Rutz built an early 5-0 lead with a takedown and nearfall points. Vercande whittled it down to 5-4 in the second. As the match wore on, Vercande felt Rutz wear down. He was confident he could get Rutz on his back after a near miss in the second.
“He was just done,” Vercande said. “I just felt I could turn him.”
It was similar to a win at last year’s state meet. Eckenrod said this type of dramatic win isn’t rare for Vercande, who thrives when things are tense.
“The kid gets it done in pressure situations,” Eckenrod said. “He’s done it since he was a freshman.”
Vercande was joined in the semifinals by teammate Austin Blythe. The top-ranked heavyweight took one step closer to becoming a three-time state champion and four-time finalist with a second-period fall over DeWitt Central’s Creighton Fox.
Independence and West Delaware kept rolling as well. The Wamac rivals have climbed to fifth and sixth in the team standings after day 2 and are separated by a half-point (34 1/2-34). Davenport Assumption leads with 57 1/2, four points ahead of Ballard. Denver-Tripoli is third with 39 1/2.
The Mustangs advanced three into the semifinals. Chris Johnson (145), Nick Fuller (160) and top-ranked 189-pounder Blaize Cabell each won.
Johnson dropped Osage’s fifth-ranked Brandon Barker, 6-4. Barker had pinned Johnson in three previous meetings with Johnson tied or having a lead in each. The key was avoiding a let-up the entire match.
“I knew if I wrestled smart and stayed in it the whole match then it came down to the end I could win it,” Johnson said. “That’s what my coaches were telling me the whole time and believed it.”
It’s Johnson’s first trip to the state meet and his win reserved him a spot on the awards stand. He wants to keep climbing the steps of the podium.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said. “I just want to keep going forward. I want to do the best that I can.”
West Delaware earned six spots on the podium, advancing all of its qualifiers into the top-eight of their respective classes. Six medalists is a new school record.
Zach Less (103) and Adam Reth (189) each advanced into the semifinals. Less beat Osage’s Joe Michels, 4-2, and No. 8-ranked Reth pinned No. 5 Colten Riley of South Central Calhoun in 5:51.
“Those two guys have come to wrestle their best,” West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said. “Right now, they’re doing that.”
Benton Community’s Chase Skoneczka is near his best. Skoneczka became the school’s first semifinalist since Ben Miller in 2001. Skoneczka, ranked fourth, notched a takedown 16 seconds into overtime to beat No. 5 Adam Drain of Mediapolis, 4-2.
“It feels great,” Skoneczka said. “it’s a good thing I’ve been working hard in the wrestling room to prepare myself for the state tournament.
“He was a tough kid. I got it done in overtime.”
Union Community pushed two wrestlers into Friday’s semifinals for the first time since 2003. Logan Thomsen, a runner-up last year, took a step closer to another finals appearance with a pin over New Hampton’s Jordan Roths at 130. The Knights 171-pounder Jake Reiter broke open a 4-3 match after the first period, dominating Fairfield’s No. 5 Jeff Guttry the remainder of the match for a 13-6 win.
South Tama had three semifinalists including Dustin Horne (112), Tyler Walz (140) and Kyle Lux at 160.
Adam Reth, Austin Blythe, Ballard, Blaize Cabell, Chris Johnson, Davenport Assumption, Denver-Tripoli wrestling Class 2A state wrestling tournament, Dustin Horne, Grant Eckenrod, Hawks, IHSAA, Independence, J.C. Vercande, jake Reiter, Jeff Voss, Kyle Lux, Logan Thomsen, Mustangs, Nick Fuller, South Tama, tyler Walz, Union Community, West Delaware, Williamsburg, Zach less