Alburnett starts the transition from staring at gold to chasing it down.
The top-ranked Pirates host an Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A regional dual Tuesday night, beginning at 6 p.m. Alburnett faces Iowa City Regina with the winner advancing to a final against the winner of Lisbon and Wilton later that evening. Tuesday’s regional dual champions in 1A and 2A advance to the State Duals tournament Feb. 13 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Alburnett has made two straight state duals appearances, placing fourth in the school’s debut in 2010 and seventh last year. The Pirates have state titles at the top of their wish list, but being No. 1 now means nothing if they aren’t there in a week.
“I constantly remind them they haven’t gotten what they want, which is that team state title,” Alburnett Coach Kane Thompson said. “They all have individual goals they’re going for and reminding them of the individual goal helps bring the team along.”
The Pirates have rolled this season, posting a 27-1 record. The only blemish was a close loss to 2A’s top-ranked West Delaware. Alburnett has nine ranked wrestlers, including top-ranked Zach Fowler (106), 113-pounder Hunter Washburn, a defending state champion and freshman Conner Shulista at 132. Grant Henderson (152) and Dylan Windfield (160) are both ranked second, and senior 138-pounder Colton Martin is fourth for the Pirates.
“Every kid from 106 to 170 has 25 wins or more,” Thompson about the Pirates lineup, which also includes sixth-ranked Bryce Paul at 145, No. 8 Zach Hoyle at 170 and 10th-ranked 126-pounder Jacob Koch.
One of the reasons the Pirates have been so impressive is a tough regular season. Alburnett tests itself against strong competition, especially from larger classes, wrestling at the Five Seasons Duals in December and the Cedar Rapids Jefferson J-Hawk Invitational last month.
“We don’t have anyone undefeated anymore,” Thompson said. “I think the strength of our schedule keeps those kids training hard all year long because they know they have tough matches.”
Alburnett, which has placed in the top 10 at the last four traditional tournaments and finishing third the last three years, has gone from hunter to hunted with the No. 1 ranking and “heavy favorite” tag. The target on their backs are as big as the golden target in their aim.
“The big thing is now I tell them every time out, being ranked No. 1, you’re going to get every team’s best effort,” Thompson said. “Whether they do or not, that’s another thing, but you tell them they’re going to try to knock you off, so you better be ready.”
In other 1A regional duals, Iowa Valley opens with Sigourney-Keota at No. 3 Eddyville-Blakesburg, which takes on Tri-County in the first round.
At Sumner, East Buchanan wrestles No. 5 Sumner-Fredericksburg in the regional dual semifinal with the winner wrestling either No. 15 Maquoketa Valley or Turkey Valley for a State Duals berth.
In 2A, West Delaware hosts Denver-Tripoli, No. 9 Decorah and Crestwood. The Hawks are looking to improve a runner-up finish at last year’s state duals. They compete against Denver-Tripoli, while Northeast Iowa Conference foes Decorah and Crestwood tangle in the other semifinal.
Wamac programs Mount Vernon and Williamsburg hit the road for regional duals. Mount Vernon heads to Davenport to face Dubuque Wahlert with No. 2 Davenport Assumption and DeWitt Central also in the field. Williamsburg is at No. 3 Mediapolis, along with 13th-ranked Washington (Iowa) and Albia.
Eighth-ranked Union Community travels to Legrand to face