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Takeaways: Iowa’s best high school wrestlers put on a show at Night of Conflict


Cody Goodwin   | Des Moines Register
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SIOUX CITY, Ia. — Southeast Polk has long been one of the state’s premier high school wrestling programs, and on Saturday night, two Ram wrestlers proved that they are going to continue to be a force to be reckoned with this upcoming season.

Joel and Nate Jesuroga both won highly-anticipated matchups during IAWrestle’s Night of Conflict here at The Arena. Joel defeated Nebraska prep Tyler Antoniak, 4-2, while Nate topped nationally-ranked Minnesota standout Tyler Wells, 9-7.

"Everything that's happening should be happening," Joel said afterward. "We've put in the work. Just need to keep climbing."

Both Joel and Nate are returning state medalists for the Rams, who finished second behind Waverly-Shell Rock at the Class 3A traditional state championships last February. Both were expected to be title favorites even before their strong performances here Saturday.

Joel, a junior, took down the highly-credentialed Antoniak, who won a Nebraska state title last season and a Greco-Roman gold medal at the U15 World Combat Games in 2019. Joel iced the match with a takedown midway through the third period, picking up a low single and finishing by tripping Antoniak in the center of the mat.

"I saw an opening and took it," Joel said. "Good things happened."

Nate, a sophomore, won one of the dual’s matches of the night, a bout between two of the country's best 106-pounders — Wells is ranked No. 2 nationally by MatScouts, while Nate is No. 3. Wells, who won freestyle gold at the same U15 World Combat Games, built a 5-2 lead after two periods on a takedown and three push-out points.

But Nate stormed back to tie the match at 7-all in the third period on a couple of step-out points, a stalling point and a takedown in the waning seconds. In overtime, he scored off a head-outside shot to win after evading one of Wells' shots near the edge.

"It was really fun," Nate said afterward. "This is what I look forward to. I was really excited to get that match.

"I just had to keep wrestling. I knew I could win that match, even after I got down."

Both Jesuroga brothers were already going to play key roles in Southeast Polk’s chase for a 3A state title this upcoming season. Expectations are only going to grow after their victories on Saturday night.

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Southeast Polk's Nate Jesuroga wins nationally-ranked battle at Night of Conflict
Southeast Polk's Nate Jesuroga wins nationally-ranked battle at Night of Conflict.

State champs battle at Night of Conflict

One of the best parts about IAWrestle’s Night of Conflict — an annual preseason exhibition dual that routinely features some of Iowa’s best wrestlers — is the matchups between returning state champs.

This year, there were two big ones.

Underwood’s Gable Porter topped Waverly-Shell Rock’s Ryder Block, 4-1, in one of the dual’s featured matches. Both went undefeated and won state titles at 106 pounds last February — Porter in 1A, Porter in 3A. On Saturday, Porter scored a takedown in the first period and added a reversal in the third to win.

Iowa City High’s Ben Kueter beat Des Moines Lincoln’s Mickey Griffith, 12-5, in a battle of returning 3A state champs. Kueter won at 160 last February, while Griffith won at 170. On Saturday, Kueter dominated while in neutral, racking up five takedowns.

Iowa tops Nebraska in head-to-head battles

Five states were represented in Saturday night’s dual: Montana, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota and, of course, Iowa. There were four matches between Iowa and Nebraska wrestlers — and the Iowa kids won three.

In addition to Joel Jesuroga’s win over Antoniak (who’s from Millard South), Logan-Magnolia’s Hagen Heistand and Ankeny’s Trever Anderson both won matches against their Nebraska counterparts.

Heistand defeated Central City’s Dyson Kunz, 3-1, on a takedown in the third period. It was a very nice win for Heistand, a returning state medalist, as Kunz reached the finals of the UWW Cadet greco world team trials in 2019. 

Anderson, a 2019 state champ for the Hawks, took out Caleb Coyle, another Millard South wrestler and Oregon State recruit, 7-2. Anderson scored takedowns in all three periods. In the second, he nearly gave up two on a dump, but he instead squared his hips, snatched Coyle’s leg and scored his own takedown with less than 10 seconds left.

Only Cascade’s Aidan Noonan, a two-time state champ and a Wyoming commit, lost his Iowa-Nebraska matchup. Noonan fell to Bellevue East’s Garrett Grice, 6-5, after Grice, a top-50 2022 prospect, rallied on a pair takedowns in the second and third period.

Greene County’s Robbins wins by come-from-behind pin

McKinley Robbins, a returning state finalist for Greene County, produced arguably the most fireworks of the night.

Robbins trailed Montana state champ Carter Schmidt, 11-4, after surrendering a couple of takedowns and two full sets of back points. But midway through the third period, Robbins locked up a cowcatcher on the edge and scored a pin that brought the few hundred people in attendance to their feet.

Just like he drew it up, right?

Not exactly.

"I had to keep grinding," Robbins, a sophomore, said. "I don't really know how I got there, but once I threw him to his back, I knew he wasn't getting up."

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Greene County's McKinley Robbins scored a big pin at Night of Conflict
Greene County's McKinley Robbins scored a big pin at Night of Conflict.

Friday night was for the girls

IAWrestle expanded this year’s Night of Conflict into a two-day event. Friday night featured a 12-match girls’ dual, which included just as much firepower as Saturday’s matches.

In all, the girls’ dual had four past state champs, five nationally-ranked wrestlers and 16 other past state medalists all in action. The girls put on a dominant show, recording 10 total pins — including in two matches between nationally-ranked wrestlers.

In Friday’s penultimate match, Waverly-Shell Rock’s Madison Diaz second a second-period pin over Lisbon’s Jannell Avila, who is a returning state champ. Diaz, a Florida transplant, is ranked 12th nationally at 144 pounds, while Avila is ranked 24th at 138.

Right after, Iowa Valley’s Millie Peach, ranked third nationally at 200 pounds, pinned Winnebago’s Zeriah George, who’s ranked 18th at the same weight, in the first period. Peach is a two-time state champ and a past Cadet freestyle All-American.

The other star from Friday night was Osage’s Emma Grimm. A returning state finalist — and the daughter of Upper Iowa wrestling coach Heath Grimm — Emma won twice on Friday, pinning both Waukon’s Meridian Snitker and Fort Dodge’s Alexis Ross.

Other victors from the girls’ competition included: Colfax-Mingo’s Mariah Webster, Ridge View’s Izzy Deeds, Southwest Valley’s Adyson Lundquist, North Fayette Valley’s Abby Boehm, Cedar Falls’ Raelynn Strelow, Sioux Central’s Morgan Griffin, Nashua-Plainfield’s Toyia Griffin and Davenport Assumption’s Sydney Park.

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West Delaware's Wyatt Voelker reacts after beating Boone's Taner Harvey at the Night of Conflict
West Delaware's Wyatt Voelker reacts after beating Boone's Taner Harvey at the Night of Conflict.

Other Notes and Takeaways

Two matches pitted returning state finalists against each other. Don Bosco’s Cael Rahnavardi opened Saturday night with a 7-3 win over Fort Dodge’s Dreyzon Phillips. Linn-Mar’s Tate Naaktgeboren beat Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Jack Gaukel, 5-1.

Waverly-Shell Rock’s Bailey Roybal scored a second-period pin over Woodbury Central’s Beau Klingensmith. This may not be the last time these two cross paths, either — Roybal is headed to South Dakota State, while Klingensmith is committed to North Dakota State.

West Delaware’s Wyatt Voelker, considered the No. 64 overall 2022 recruit, scored three takedowns and looked quite impressive in a 7-2 win over Boone’s Taner Harvey, a returning 3A state finalist.

Other results: Linn-Mar’s Bryce Parke beat West Sioux’s Mikey Baker, 10-8. West Sioux’s Braden Graff beat Center Point-Urbana’s Cole Whitehead, 4-2 in overtime. And St. Paris Graham standout Alek Martin, a South Dakota State commit, beat Lisbon state champ Robert Avila Jr., 14-2, in the night’s final bout.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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