IOWA CITY – Kegan Wakefield’s prep career has been a bumpy road of injury.
His senior season has been a smooth ride, but he knows he could hit an unexpected pothole. He is prepared to meet it with the same toughness that has propelled him through the last three seasons.
Iowa City West’s top-ranked 138-pounder built an 11-0 lead before recording a first-period pin, contributing to the ninth-ranked Trojans’ 69-6 win over Iowa City High (6-11, 2-5 MVC) Thursday night at West. The Trojans (15-7, 6-1) won 12 of 14 weights, including nine pins.
Shoulder injuries have plagued Wakefield. He missed the district meet due to injury as a freshman. Wakefield was a state runner-up as a sophomore and then placed seventh at state last year battling separations in both shoulders.
“My freshman year I was pretty much injured the whole time, my sophomore year was good and last year was brutal,” Wakefield said. “I think I’m pretty close to the best as I could possibly feel.”
He appreciates his health. Wakefield doesn’t take it for granted, knowing it isn’t guaranteed in the long term.
“I’m still prepared,” Wakefield said. “It can happen at any moment and I have to be willing to push through it if I have to for the team and myself.”
Wakefield has taken the adversity in stride. Injury proved to be one tough opponent to beat. He proved when he was healthy he could compete with anyone.
“People get injured,” Wakefield said. “That’s part of sports. When I’m injured I still want to win.”
It takes toughness and perseverance to overcome the recurring setbacks. He separated his shoulder at the state tournament in February, only to handle it on the mat and get a win.
“I don’t think you realize how tough it is until you see it pop out in a match and him continue to finish it,” West Coach Mark Reiland said. “I don’t know how many people can pop their shoulder in and finish the match.”
Wakefield said he experienced the situation multiple times in practice. It was still hard to endure.
“The pain is so unreal,” Wakefield said. “Once it goes back in it feels a lot better, but it’s unbelievably sore. It’s a mental test.”
One he hasn’t had to pass this season, despite a brief preseason scare. Wakefield had both shoulders surgically repaired – the left days after the state tournament in February and the right in May. Rehabilitation continues today, including the use of bands for strength and stability.
“He’s never probably going to be 100 percent,” Reiland said. “He’s a lot better than last year.”
Wakefield admits his state title hopes are better than previous seasons. At least on paper, Wakefield said this is his year, but plenty of work remains.
“I still think I have a lot of improvement to do,” Wakefield said. “I’ve had a lot of close matches. I’ve been able to get through them. There are still kids at my weight class who are just as tough and I have to be ready to go.”
Wakefield scored a takedown and then nine nearfall points before scoring a pin in 1:46, following teammate Tristen Bowers who started the dual for West with a first-period fall. They ignited a six-point frenzy for the Trojans, opening with six straight pins and two forfeits.
Tyler Hebl (145), John Milani (152), Jackson Voigt (160) and 170-pounder Donovan Doyle had pins for the Trojans in the streak. Heavyweight Colin Foerstner, Jakeb Bakken (120) and Chris Walters at 126 had falls, and Jordan Crawford (106) won by decision for West.
“I think they felt they could put some of those guys away and they wanted to make as quick as work as they could,” said Reiland, whose team will compete in a tournament at St. Charles, Mo., this weekend. “We have two more days of wrestling ahead of us, so the quicker we get done the better.”
Even the losses were contested, especially at 220. City High’s second-ranked Ryan Maas scored a takedown in each of the first two periods for a 5-1 lead, but West’s Micah Kelsay fought back within a point. Maas held off late takedown attempts for a 5-4 lead, putting the Little Hawks on the board.
Alex Lemus won by decision at 113 for City High. First-year Little Hawk head coach Cory Connell searched for positives.
“I just know we have to keep improving every single day,” Connell said. “We have to get bette, no matter what.”
Victories don’t mean as much as effort. He wanted to see more fight from many of the wrestlers, noting 126-pounder Jose Verdinez didn’t back down despite being outmatched by Walters.
“I don’t care if we lose as long as we go down fighting,” Connell said. “If you do your best, that is OK as long as you’re doing your best. We have to get to that point.”
Reiland came in on the losing end of the City High-West rivalry. Those tables have turned and he said Connell is the type of coach to return the Little Hawk program to prominence.
“It’s a long road for him,” Reiland said. “He has the patience, and, quite frankly, he probably has the drive.”