DES MOINES – At one point this season, Zach Less wasn’t even the best 103-pounder on West Delaware’s wrestling team, but now he is trying to be the best in the state.
The Hawks sophomore earned a spot in the state finals with a 5-0 semifinal win over Winterset’s Derek Miller in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 2A state wrestling tournament Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.
“It means a lot to make it,” Less said. “I’ve had a tough road.”
It may have seemed like a long road earlier this season. In December, teammate Patrick Woods beat him out for the varsity spot. He reclaimed it right before the holiday break, but a state championhip was far from his mind.
“I never thought that,” said Less, who improved to 32-6. “I know I’d just have to work harder.
“I had to push myself the rest of the year. Now, this is where I’m at.”
Less jumped to an early lead, scoring a takedown in the first 19 seconds of the match and never trailed. he added a penalty point in the second before icing it with a reversal with 23 seconds left. The realization of a state birth crept into his mind.
“Right when I got that reversal,” said Less, who faces top-ranked Doug Miner (40-2) of Spirit Lake Park Saturday night. “I knew he couldn’t come back if I kept my position.”
West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said Less has improved as the season has progressed and, even when he was out of the lineup, he saw a lot of potential.
“If you keep getting better each time you go out who knows how far you can go,” Voss said.
All six West Delaware qualifiers have earned medals. The Hawks are fifth in the team race with 53 points. Davenport Assumption leads with 95 1/2, which is 7 1/2 more than second-place Ballard. Denver-Tripoli is third. The standings show the Hawks have gotten better all year.
“What we’re like in December is different than what we are now,” Voss said. “The kids are proving that.”
Less may be a surprise finalist, but Williamsburg’s Austin Blythe knows nothing less. The Raiders top-ranked heavyweight became the 43rd four-time state finalist with a second-period fall over Logan Hopp of New Hampton.
Blythe (48-1) said wrestlers bring their strongest effort against him at the state meet and he prefers that type of competition over foes who are intimidated by him. He expects a challenge from Dallas Center-Grimes’ sixth-ranked Zach Bauer (36-3) in the finals, as Blythe tries to claim a third state title.
“Whoever I have (Saturday) night will do the same thing,” Blythe said. “I have to keep wrestling my best.”
Benton Community’s Chase Skoneczka seems to be at his best when things are tense. Skoneczka won his second straight overtime match with a 5-3 win in double overtime against top-ranked Denver-Tripoli’s Garrett Smith.
“Rankings are rankings. They don’t mean anything,” the fourth-ranked Skoneczka said. “Everybody is 0-0 when you get here and you’ve got to work your butt off.”
Skoneczka is looking to become the Bobcats first state champion since Chad Hennings won the heavyweight title in 1984.
“This is huge,” said Skoneczka, a senior. “25 years since the last (Benton) state champion. I don’t know what to say.”
Independence’s Nick Fuller started wrestling in fourth grade, and from the beginning he wanted to become the Mustang to win multiple titles. The Independence junior is on pace in his first state appearance. Fuller beat No. 4 Collin Ascherl of MOC-Floyd Valley, 8-4, in a 160-pound semifinal.
“We’ve never had a two-time champion at Independence and that was one of my goals in fourth grade,” Fuller said. “It feels good to get into the finals and have a shot at it.”
Fuller (39-4) received a boost of confidence scoring an early takedown. He built a 6-4 lead as time wore down and then scored a final one in the waning seconds for the win.
Fuller was denied reaching state last year. he placed third in a district meet with West Delaware’s Brett Yonkovic and North Fayette’s Shane Havenstrite, who then placed fourth and eighth at state. He knew if he worked harder he could reach his goal.
“It’s like a dream. A dream come true,” Fuller said about reaching the finals. “It feels good.”
He will face South Tama’s second-ranked Kyle Lux (39-0) for the first time. After a tough quarterfinal win against No. 1 Cody Solari of Sergeant-Bluff Luton, Lux wasted little time to pin Ballard’s No. 7 Brad Mickelson in 160.
Lux, who was eighth last year and third as a sophomore, has been powered by what he considered a poor showing at last year’s tournament.
“Last year I fell short of what I wanted,” Lux said. “I’m excited to finally get there.
“I used last year as motivation. It’s good.”
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