All the puzzles pieces have fallen into place.
What kind of picture it produces is unclear, but Linn-Mar coach Doug Streicher likes what he sees at the moment.
The Lions rolled through the district meet, qualifying a school record 12 wrestlers to the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state wrestling tournament Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. First round of 3A competition begins at 2 p.m.
“Overall, I feel good about where we’re at,” Streicher said after the district meet at Marion. “It’s nice to be a district champion, as a team or individual, but it’s all about seeing our draw and making something happen.
“You’ll remember district for awhile, but what you’ll really remember and what goes on the record board is state.”
The Lions are the strongest they have been all season. The team mended from various injuries just in time for the postseason.
“Looking back, we’ve only had one or two duals where we had what I’d consider everyone in the lineup,” Streicher said. “It’s nice to be healthy at the end of the season like that.”
The season will be noted in the Lions record book for advancing all but two starters to state, but potential exists for more. Linn-Mar’s best team finish was third in 2002. Last year, the Lions placed fourth, missing third by a half-point.
“Our goal is a top-three finish, for sure,” Streicher said. “If we can put pressure on teams for the championship, everyone wants to get first, that’s no secret.”
It is no surprise that Linn-Mar has plenty of firepower to challenge for a trophy, although top-ranked Southeast Polk’s 13 qualifiers and 11 ranked individuals will make it tough to contend for a title.
The Lions have eight ranked wrestlers, including have with strong shots at individual titles. Sophomore Matt Wempen, who is the only returning 3A state champion from last year after winning the 106-pound title, opened the season ranked first and is now fourth with a 31-1 mark at 113. Wempen opens with Johnston’s Travis Price (29-11).
Alijah Jeffery is ranked first at 120 for Linn-Mar and has placed third at the state meet his first two years. Senior 145-pounder Joel Northrup has also placed third twice at the state tournament. He is top-ranked, owning a 47-0 record.
Ross Lembeck is ranked first at 152 and is 20-1, reaching the awards as a freshman and sophomore.
Having big point scorers is important in any format.
“Having four guys ranked No. 1 at some point of the season has its positives,” Lembeck said. “Overall, we don’t have a competition between the four of us, but it is good to have four guys ranked pretty high.”
Lembeck returned to competition last week from missing extended time to an undisclosed injury, declining to talk about specifics. He has high expectations, attempting to improve on his runner-up finish last year.
He said he likes his chances of returning to the finals and hopes to complete the championship feat.
“To reach the finals as a sophomore, I was pretty happy,” Lembeck said. “The finals match, however, I could have improved there. Overall, second place at state good was a good time for me. It was a good time for me in Des Moines and hopefully it will be this year.”
Toby Northrup (132), Shea Hartzler (138), Dakota Digmann (160), Luke Wempen (170) and 195-pounder Sam Nowak have also qualified. Digmann (35-10) was a district champion and has made progress, avenging some earlier losses.
“He’s one of those competitors who wants a shot,” Streicher said. “He’s been wrestling tough. He’s pretty hard-nosed and physical.”
Damon Griffin (39-7), ranked fourth at 126, has a chance to place high with the top-three ranked wrestlers on the opposite side of the bracket. Andrew Holladay (38-8) is ranked sixth at 182
“We are going to try and have everyone take it one step at a time,” Seventh-ranked 220-pounder Justin Green said. “Everyone is focused.”
Green (35-8) scored a last-second takedown for a district title over Dubuque Hempstead’s No. 10 Gannon Gremmel to reach the state meet. He is showing flashes of what it takes to contribute to the Lions performance.
“We’ve been harping on him all year about scoring more points,” Streicher said. “He was forced into a position where he had to score. That fact that he could get it done in that situation should go a long way to boost his confidence to get more shots off at the state meet when you need to score some points.”
The Lions will worry about what they can control. They will try to keep wrestlers in the tournament as long as possible and hope other teams can knock each other out.
“It’s a matter of a lot of variables and we’ll see what happens,” Streicher said. “That’s the million-dollar question. You just don’t know how other teams are going to perform. There are quite a few teams with a legitimate shot being in the top three and even winning.”