Alburnett coach Kane Thompson outlawed any discussion of colors associated with less than the best.
The only hue up for discussion was gold. The Pirates have talked the talk and they will try to finish walking the walk.
Top-ranked and top-seeded Alburnett will attempt to claim their first state wrestling title during the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A State Duals tournament Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The Pirates (29-1) open with No. 8 West Marshall, which is making its State Duals debut with a 22-7 mark, beginning at 11 a.m.
Gold is Thompson’s favorite color, heading into Des Moines.
“It’s the only color I talk about,” Thompson said. “I tell them I don’t even want to hear the words silver or bronze. Gold is my color. Let’s talk about gold and that’s it.”
Alburnett has elevated its wrestling program to new heights under Thompson. The last four years they have finished in the top 10 at the traditional tournament, placing third each of the last three years. This is the third straight State Duals appearance, placing fourth in 2011.
With their best team yet, the Pirates are set on on championship haul.
“That’s all we want,”Alburnett’s senior 152-pounder Grant Henderson said. “I personally don’t like the number three. I don’t like it at all, so I know if everybody here all performs and does our best then that’s what we want.”
If that isn’t enough to push them, Thompson can find motivation in the Pirates gymnasium. It is a banner that hangs on the wall, honoring a state softball title, which is the school’s only state championship. They want to add to the decor. It would mean a lot to more than just the wrestlers.
“It shows these kids that every year a school our size is going to win a championship so why not Alburnett,” Thompson said. “It will prove to everybody in the community Alburnett can win titles in athletics. It will breed success in the town and community.”
Colton Martin witnessed the infancy of the program’s success. He remembered a desire to contribute. The fourth-ranked 138-pound senior would be a key component of any titles this week.
“We’re shooting for two,” Martin said about a possibly State Duals and traditional tournament title sweep. “It would be awesome. The program started to heighten when I was in eighth grade. Now, to finish out with the first state title would be awesome.”
The culture has changed around the program. Thompson said he used to have five to seven wrestlers who had the potential of doing well. The wrestlers hold themselves to a higher standard each time on the mat.
“The expectation is if you’re in Alburnett’s lineup you better be winning,” Thompson said. “That’s the way the kids feel.
“This is the first year that has started to happen.”
Alburnett’s lineup is loaded, featuring a 1A-best nine ranked wrestler. Not only are the Pirates balanced, the ranked wrestlers are highly-touted competitors. Zach Fowler (106), Hunter Washburn (113) and 132-pound freshman Conner Shulista are ranked first at their weight. Henderson and Dylan Windfield at 160 are both ranked No. 2. Bryce Paul is sixth at 145, Zach Hoyle (170) is eighth and 126-pounder Jacob Koch is rated 10th.
The camaraderie allows them to feed off one another in competition. Once they get momentum, like their regional final dual 50-33 win over Wilton, they are tough to slow down.
“Whether you are close or not, you’re winning and get on a roll it is tough to stop,” Martin said. “As soon as you get buddies as close as we are, then it multiplies.”
Work still remains on those third-place finishes. First is State Duals and then three days of the traditional tournament. They will have to press the action to obtain the golden prize.
“Everybody’s got to come out hard,” Henderson said. “You can’t give up early takedowns and be in a deficit and try to fight back. We need to score early and often to ovecome challengers like No. 2 Woodbury Central (27-4) and third-seeded Eddyville-Blakesburg (23-1).
The Pirates qualified a school-record nine for the traditional state tournament, and its only dual loss is to Class 2A top-ranked West Delaware. Thompson said this is the strongest team he has ever coached, including his days as an assistant for successful Cedar Rapids Kennedy squads.
“These guys are just tough,” Thompson said. “It’s a testament to these kids and what their parents have done for them.”