CEDAR RAPIDS – Drake Allen has come a long way from a year ago.
The Cedar Rapids Jefferson senior has overcome disappointments on and off the mat to produce his best season as a prep.
Allen improved to 21-7, winning the 182-pound title at Jefferson’s J-Hawk Invitational on Saturday. It marks a high-point in a 13-month span that included the loss of his father, which prompted his return to the J-Hawks team last year, and falling a spot short of a state tournament berth.
“It forced me to grow up a little faster in a way,” said Allen, whose dad, Lincoln Jon Allen, died December 2011 at the age of 41. “At first, it was tough, but now that I learned there are ways to keep yourself busy, so you don’t think about things like that.”
The maturation process has created a more independent person, relying on himself for more things. It has also allowed him to trust more, asking others for assistance when needed, according to Jefferson co-head coach Matt Orton.
“He’s more coachable,” Orton said. “He listens and can focus now.”
Orton also said that Allen is more accountable as well. Excuses were common in the past when he faced predicaments in and out of the sport. Those have diminished for Allen.
“He’s willing to admit when he’s making a mistake,” Orton said. “That is a big step for him.”
Another big step would be to finish a complete wrestling season. He is on track, and he is excited about the progress he recognizes during every competition and practice.
“This is the best year I’ve had so far,” Allen said. “It seems like every Thursday, Saturday and every day is a little bit better.”
He has been aided by a drop in size. Last year, Allen wrestled 220 pounds. He placed third at district, missing the first part of the season. The style at a lower weight required an adjustment, but it didn’t take him long to get comfortable. He is happy with his conditioning and likes the more active competition.
“At the beginning of this year it was tough for me to get back in the groove of taking shots and being more aggressive,” Allen said. “I’ve gotten better with an offense than the push-pull game that goes on at the heavier weights.”
Orton said Allen isn’t perfect, on and off the mat, but he is getting closer. He said as a coach he looks for wrestlers to continually improve. Allen is among the top of that list for the J-Hawks.
“I think he sees the finish line,” Orton said. “He wants to leave a positive legacy.”
Originally, Allen had a goal to reach the state tournament. The step he has made to improve has fostered the desire to reach a step on the state awards stand. He wants to end his career with a win.
“Looking back at where I’ve come from, my goal is to place at state,” Allen said. “To me, it would be successful if I place on an odd position … As high as I can get.”
Allen already has his sights set on the future after wrestling. He enlisted to join the Marine Corps in October and will head to boot camp in San Diego, Calif., on July 22. Military service and wrestling share some of the same demands.
“The lifestyle is very similar,” Allen said. “You have to have a lot of discipline.”
St. John’s big win
Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Skyler St. John earned an impressive win when he pinned Bettendorf’s top-ranked Alex Hernandez on Saturday en route to claiming the 145-pound title at the Geneseo (Ill.) tournament.
Seventh-ranked St. John held the lead over the Bulldogs’ three-time state medalist, taking him down to his back in the third period of their quarterfinal bout. He advanced to beat Waverly-Shell Rock’s No. 5 Corey Abernathy, 8-1, in the finals.
“It was a pretty good win,” St. John said. “I knew if I stuck to my defense it wasn’t going to be good. I stayed with my offense, kept going forward and took him down.”
St. John (22-7) lost to Hernandez, 4-3, in the Five Seasons Duals, but was extremely close to a takedown in the final seconds that would have given him a victory.
“I gained a little bit of confidence,” St. John said. “I knew I could be up there with those guys, if I really put my mind to it.”
Don’t expect St. John to relax because of a nice achievement in January. He said he plans to keep his head on straight and take the feat in stride.
“It’s just one (win),” St. John said. “I have to keep pushing forward to do well at district and state.”
St. John was one of four finalists for Class 3A fifth-ranked Prairie, which finished just 11 ½ points back of team champion Waverly-Shell Rock and only a half-point behind runner-up Bettendorf. Josh Wenger (126), Trey Blaha at 138 and heavyweight Andrew Netolicky all placed second for the Hawks, who only had 11 wrestlers due to a flu outbreak, according to Prairie Coach Blake Williams.
When No. 1’s collide
Alijah Jeffery passed his toughest test of the season when he faced Spirit Lake Park’s Doug Miner in a battle of top-ranked wrestlers. Jeffery, of Linn-Mar, beat Miner, 4-1, in the 120-pound match of the Lions’ 60-17 win over the Indians at the Estherville-Lincoln Central duals.
Jeffery is a two-time state medalist and is top-ranked in 3A by The Predicament. Miner, a two-time state champion is No. 1 in 2A.
The Lions, third in the 3A dual rankings by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, improved to 20-7 with wins over ELC (72-6), Forest City (52-16), Sioux City Heelan (62-18) and a 48-18 victory against Blue Earth (Minn.).
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