MARION – Members of the Linn-Mar wrestling team are usually on full-feed at this time of year, reflecting on the season’s accomplishments.
But, the season didn’t end with the conclusion of the traditional state tournament, so the Lions will have to postpone the after-season awards banquet and make weight yet again.
The 11th-ranked Lions host No. 7 North Scott (21-4) in a Class 3A regional dual, attempting to qualify for the Iowa High School Athletic Association State Dual tournament Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. It marks Linn-Mar’s first appearance in a regional dual since 3A added the qualifying round in 2008, and the Lions are looking to reach the State Duals for the first time since placing third in 2002.
Linn-Mar (27-6) reached the regional dual by winning the team championship at the 3A district tournament Feb. 12, but this dual is a springboard to the goal they have had in their sights.
“You have to win a regional dual to make State Duals,” Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher said. “That’s been out mindset for the entire year. We understood what kind of team we had and the wrestlers at different weights. It’s a goal to get back to the State Dual tournament.”
The Lions’ performance in Des Moines, resulting in three medalists and 15th place team finish, didn’t display the talent they have in the practice room. The ability was visible at distrtict, qualifying eight to state. The dual competitions will be an opportunity for the Lions to end on a good note.
“You try to explain to them that this is your chance for redemption a little bit,” Streicher said. “For the other kids who didn’t make it to state, this is your chance to go to a state tournament.”
Linn-Mar returns six of their state qualifiers, including third-place 103-pound freshman Alijah Jeffery and Ross Lembeck (135) and Mitch Wantock (171), who finished seventha nd sixth, respectively. A strong finish as a team and the expectations will be high again next season.
“The kids know what’s at stake for our program,” Streicher said. “We have some things we want to accomplish. It will be a good jumpstart for what kind of team we think we’ll have next year to make a statement if we make a statement now with some young kids in the lineup.”
The traditional tournament wasn’t kind, as the Linn-Mar only won two of its eight first-round matches. One of those losses came when sophomore Joel Northrup defaulted to Cedar Falls’ Cassy Herkelman in his opening match at 112 pounds, citing faith-based reasons for his decision. The choice caused a circus atmosphere with media swarming those associated with the team and other wrestlers involved. Streicher said the showing had more to do with a lack of production more than a distraction.
“I think we were going out there afraid to make a mistake more than going out there to show what kind of offense we have,” said Streicher, noting the Lions suffered two 1-0 losses. “You just don’t know how the state tournament is going to affect kids. We weren’t offensive enough.
“I can’t say it didn’t have any effect, but I don’t think it was the reason we lost matches by any means.”
Wantock was a key addition to the Linn-Mar squad. Wantock suffered an injury Dec. 11 and was heled out of competition until the district meet. He qualified in a bracket where the No. 6 seed was a returning state qualifier and then finished up with a medal. He even sat out last season due to injury. He solidifies the Lions’ lineup.
“How he’s performing shows what kind of athlete he is and the wrestler he is,” Streicher said. “We’ve been missing him for the last year and a half now.”
Cedar Rapids Prairie qualified for regional duals right behind Linn-Mar. The No. 8 Hawks (26-4) have a tougher battle, heading to Waverly and facing second-ranked Wavelry-Shell Rock (25-4), which just won its fourth straight traditional state title.
The Hawks look at it as a great opportunity for competition.
“We have nothing to hold back and nothing to lose,” Prairie Coach Blake Williams said. “Obviously, they’re a great team. They’re state champions, but you never know what can happen.
“We’re going to go out and do the best we possibly can.”
Prairie is looking for its sixth State Duals berth in the last seven seasons. Williams said they will bring fight and he expects some highly competitive contests.
“I feel there will be some good matches,” Williams said. “Eazch and every person, no matter if we’re wrestling one of their state champions or placewinners, has to go out there and leave it all on the mat.”
Top-ranked Iowa City West (33-2) is a favorite to earn its ninth straight State Duals berth. The Trojans, who won in 2007 but have been State duals runner-up the last three years, host Cedar Rapids Jefferson. (12-6)
Alijah Jeffery, Blake Williams, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Class 3A, Des Moines, Doug Streicher, Hawks, Iowa City West, Iowa High School Athletic Association, Linn-Mar, Mitch Wantock, North Scott, regional dual, Ross Lembeck, state duals, Trojans, U.S. Cellular Center, Waverly-Shell Rock