CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids Prairie made a statement and Andrew Netolicky provided the exclamation point.
The senior heavyweight put the finishing touches on a memorable achievement for the Hawks.
Eighth-ranked Netolicky scored a reversal and then pinned Cedar Rapids Washington’s No. 3 Zac Gillis for the 285-pound championship Saturday at Washington High School, capping Prairie’s first Mississippi Valley Conference Championships team title since 1995 and third in school history. The Hawks tallied 262 1/2 points, winning by 45 over runner-up Linn-Mar. Iowa City West was third with 209 1/2. It snapped West’s streak of nine straight conference crowns.
Netolicky knew exactly how long it had been since Prairie won the second of back-t0-back titles. The fifth-ranked Hawks have had this in their sights.
“We felt good about this year,” Netolicky said. “We feel we’re the strongest we’ve been in a long time. We all work as hard as we can.”
He had to work a little harder for his second MVC title. Netolicky and Gillis went into an overtime tiebreaker to determine the final champion. Netolicky scored an escape in the second and appeared to ride Gillis out in the third until the official realized a stall call against Netolicky should have stopped the clock with seven seconds remaining.
Gillis scored a tying escape in the final second to force overtime. A mistake nearly cost Netolicky in the tiebreaker. He was called for locked hands in the first 30-second period. He responded by scored a reversal and then covered Gillis for a fall in 7:41.
“I had to dig down deep and finish off the match the way I wanted,” Netolicky said.
He was one of three Prairie champions and one of the Hawks MVC-best six finalists. Senior Cam Rathje also earned his second straight title, pinning his way through the 170-pound bracket before reaching the third period. Rathje stuck Dubuque Wahlert’s Weslee Haynes in 3:04 of the finals.
“Happy, but never satisfied,” said Rathje, who is less than a week away from being sidelined by a pinched nerve in his neck. “There are always things I’m going to work on in practice.”
The Hawks were 0-3 in the finals until Jamie Day took the mat at 152. He faced a 4-1 deficit midway through the second period before coming back for a 6-4 win over Dubuque Hempstead’s Brandon Haas. Day scored the final two takedowns, including the final one with 53 seconds left.
Day has come a long way from his freshman season, according to Prairie coach Blake Williams.
“Wow,” Williams said. “It says a lot about him and his work ethic. He put in a lot of time and got better each year.”
Prairie used a balanced effort, despite missing three starters from their lineup due to injury and illness, which has plagued a couple of the top teams. The mantra was for each individual to worry about their personal performance. Win the small battles to secure the big one.
“We’re proud we came together so we could accomplish this,” Rathje said. “We focused on ourselves because we knew we’re always looking to score and if we do what we need to do we’ll get it done.”
The Hawks had 13 wrestlers place in the top-eight. Josh Wenger (126), Trey Blaha (138) and Skyler St. John (145) were runners-up, while 106-pounder Sam Uthoff, River Whitters (160) and Casey Becker at 195 each placed third.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” said Williams, in his 10th season as Prairie head coach. “I know we’ve had a lot of seconds and some thirds, but never have been able to get over that hump. It shows a lot for the kids and I’m happy for them.”
Linn-Mar matched Prairie and West with three champions. The Lions received back-to-back titles from state champion Matt Wempen at 113 and 120-pounder Alijah Jeffery. Wempen won his second straight title, as did Lions top-ranked 145-pounder Joel Northrup.
Northrup notched a first-period takedown, two escapes in the second and added a penalty point in the third to drop fifth-ranked St. John, 5-2. It was his first MVC title since winning the 103-pound title as a freshman.
“I felt in control most of the match,” Northrup said. “I made a few mistakes but I’m going to take it to practice Monday morning and work on it, and hopefully, I don’t make them again.”
Northrup improved to 40-0. This is a steppingstone to the gold medal he wants to wear in February.
“It’s definitely fun to win the conference tournament,” Northrup said. “What I want, my goal is win a state championship.”
Linn-Mar hasn’t far off the Hawks with 11 wrestlers placing in the top seven. Top-ranked 152-pounder Ross Lembeck is still out of the lineup, but Dakota Digmann and Andrew Holladay both earned silver medals for the Lions. Linn-Mar’s Damon Griffin (126) and Shea Hartzler at 138 were third.
“I thought we did well,” Northrup said about the team performance. “We’re going to keep working and hopefully not only win individual titles at state but also win as a team.”
West’s Kegan Wakefield is 2-for-2 in four years. The Trojans senior has won both MVC tournaments he has wrestled when injuries didn’t keep him out of the competition. The last came during his sophomore season, and it was nice to close out with an MVC championship.
“I’m real grateful about it,” Wakefield said. “Every win is special. … I have one big one left (at state).”
Third-ranked Wakefield had to overcome No. 4 Blaha’s challenge, scoring a takedown with 56 seconds remaining for a 2-1 win in the 138 final. Wakefield (45-4) nabbed a low-single and finished to avoid a second runner-up finish in a week. He was motivated by last weekend’s loss to Bettendorf’s Jacob Woodard in the finals of Urbandale’s Ed Winger Classic.
“It was a gut-wrenching loss,” said Wakefield, who was dropped from his No. 1 spot in the latest rankings. “I was thinking I don’t want to feel that way again.”
West teammates Chris Walters (126) and 220-pounder Micah Kelsay also won titles. The Trojans’ second-ranked Mickey Pelfrey placed second, losing to Waterloo West’s Marcus Harrington, 5-1, at 195.
The home crowd had something to cheer for at the end of the day. Sophomore Dax Dills claimed the 132-pound title with an impressive 10-2 major decision over Dubuque Senior’s Matt Hesselman. Added work in recent weeks has helped with his weight and conditioning and he expected to win convincingly.
“It feels really good,” Dills said. “I guess all my hard work has paid off.”
He had a host of family, including an uncle and his grandparents to cheer for him. It was a little more special to win in his own gymnasium.
“It makes me feel a lot more at home,” Dills said. “My family is here. It makes it better.”
Cedar Rapids Jefferson was fourth with 166 points. Freshman 113-pounder Kyle Briggs reached the finals, securing the top finish for the J-Hawks.
At C.R. Washington
Teams – 1. C.R. Prairie 262.5, 2. Linn-Mar 217.5, 3. Iowa City West 209.5, 4. C.R. Jefferson 166, 5. Cedar Falls 160, 6. Dubuque Wahlert 118.5, 7. Waterloo West 110, 8. C.R. Washington 106, 9. C.R. Xavier 102, 10. C.R. Kennedy 99, 11. Dubuque Senior 88.5, 12. Dubuque Hempstead 78.5, 13. Iowa City High 59, 14. Waterloo East 30.
106 pounds – Chase Lynn (DS) major dec. Nolan Hromidko (CRK), 13-4; 113 – Matt Wempen (LM) technical fall Kyle Briggs (CRJ), 17-0; 120 – Alijah Jeffery (LM) dec. Daniel Kelly (CF), 8-2; 126 – Chris Walters (ICW) dec. Josh Wenger (CRP), 4-1; 132 – Dax Dills (CRW) major dec. Matt Hesselman (DS), 10-2; 138 – Kegan Wakefield (ICW) dec. Trey Blaha (CRP), 2-1; 145 – Joel Northrup (LM) dec. Skyler St. John (CRP), 5-2; 152 – Jamie Day (CRP) dec. Brandon Haas (DH), 6-4; 160 – Clark Doyle (CF) pinned Dakota Digmann (LM), 3:06; 170 – Cam Rathje (CRP) pinned Wesley Haynes (DW), 3:04; 182 – Nick Hagedorn (CF) dec. Andrew Holladay (LM), 14-12 (SV OT); 195 – Marcus Harrington (WW) dec. Mickey Pelfrey (ICW), 5-1; 220 – Micah Kelsay (ICW) dec. Gannon Gremmel (DH), 9-5 (SV OT); Hwt. – Andrew Netolicky (CRP) pinned Zac Gillis (CRW), 7:41.