State wrestling: The Register's complete 2021 tournament preview
There's a very real chance the 2021 Iowa high school state wrestling championships could be one of the best in recent memory.
That probably sounds like hyperbole, and maybe even sets an unfair precedent, but let me explain.
First, the state's overall wrestling talent has risen significantly in recent years, to the point that Iowa is back on the map when it comes to producing elite prospects.
The 2019 and 2020 senior classes sent 17 and 18 wrestlers, respectively, to Division I programs. As many as 13 wrestlers from the current senior class, 2021, have already pledged to Division I programs, and more will surely follow after this week.
There could be more that join them at college wrestling's highest level from the sophomore and junior classes.
According to MatScouts, eight wrestlers from Iowa's 2022 class are considered top-200 prospects, and five from 2023 are considered top-100 recruits. There are six from the 2021 class that are considered top-200 prospects, but only two — Fort Dodge's Drake Ayala and Ankeny's Caleb Rathjen — are ranked in the top-100.
Don't miss any of the action: How to watch and follow the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament this week
That overall depth and talent has led to the second reason why this week could be so special.
The team races are expected to be heated, with a three-horse race in Class 3A, a strong-but-not-guaranteed favorite in 2A, and another two-team battle in 1A. Any slip-up could ruin a chance at team glory this week.
As such, each session will be more intense than the last. That's something we should come to expect from the state tournament even in a normal year, but especially this year. Stars will emerge brighter this week, and championships, both team and individually, will feel that much sweeter.
To get you ready, we've provided a full preview of the 2021 state wrestling championships here. We go class-by-class, with team race breakdowns, weights to watch, wrestlers to know, and even a few predictions, too.
Buckle up. It's going to be a fun week.
Team Race Breakdown
It'll be a three-team battle this week between Waverly-Shell Rock, Southeast Polk and Waukee.
The Go-Hawks have won each of the last two traditional team titles, and brought 12 wrestlers this week. The Rams have finished second each of the last two years, and brought 10. Waukee also brought 12 and has beaten both in a tournament setting.
All three teams could put as many as three, four, five or six guys in the finals, so this team race may not get decided until sometime Saturday night. They will inevitably cross paths along the way, perhaps even in the semifinals, at 132, 182 and 220, and in the finals, at 113 and, again, 182.
So Friday is going to be a big day. Saturday morning may be just as crucial, as there's a huge difference in team points between third- and fifth-place. Bonus points and wrestleback performances will help decide this race.
If any of these teams slip, Fort Dodge, Bettendorf, Iowa City and Ankeny — which qualified 10 wrestlers this week — could jump in and make a splash.
Weights to Watch
All of them.
Just kidding. Kind of.
Here's five you need to follow closely.
120 pounds: Some great firepower at this weight, with Ankeny's Trever Anderson, Waverly-Shell Rock's Bailey Roybal, Hempstead's Chad Bellis, Johnston's Rheiner Stahlbaum, Fort Dodge's Lane Cowell, Linn-Mar's Kane Naaktgeboren, and more.
132 pounds: This might be the deepest weight in the entire tournament, with a combined three state titles, six state finals appearances and dozens of past medalists all in the mix. Waverly-Shell Rock's Ryder Block and Fort Dodge's Drake Ayala are the headliners, but Linn-Mar's Bryce Parke, Indianola's Ryder Downey, Southeast Polk's Ayden Kingery, Mason City's Jace Rhodes and more will add fireworks.
152 pounds: We could possibly see another tantalizing rematch in the finals, between Waverly-Shell Rock's Aiden Riggins and Ankeny's Caleb Rathjen. Riggins beat Rathjen last month. There's also Iowa City West's Graham Gambrall, a returning champ, who could throw a wrench into things.
220 pounds: Southeast Polk's Kalob Runyon and Waverly-Shell Rock's Lucas Walker could hit in the semifinals, and the winner could see Bettendorf's Bradley Hill, who beat them both in a two-week span.
285 pounds: A pair of nationally-ranked heavyweights highlight this bracket, in Ames' Gabe Greenlee and Bettendorf's Griffin Liddle. Liddle beat Greenlee in last year's finals, but Greenlee beat Liddle last month.
More coverage of the Iowa state wrestling tournament
- 18 first-round matches to watch Thursday at the 2021 Iowa state wrestling tournament
- Team rankings, returning champs, undefeated wrestlers and cool names
- Wrestling Mailbag: Previewing the Iowa state tournament, seeding, potential final matches
Wrestlers to Know (in addition to the ones mentioned above)
Carter Freeman, Waukee: A buzzsaw at 106 pounds, entering the tournament with a 24-0 record and 24 bonus-point wins. He's just a freshman, too.
Hunter Garvin, Iowa City West: A two-time finalist who won his first title last year. He's wrestling 138 this week, and is considered the top in-state prospect in the 2022 class.
Joel Jesuroga, Southeast Polk: Many know of Joel's younger brother Nate, who is the favorite to win at 113 this week, but Joel has emerged as one of the state's fastest-rising talents, and will contend at 145.
Mickey Griffith, Des Moines Lincoln: Griffith won Lincoln's first state title in 14 years last season. He's back again this week as the 2-seed at 170, behind Johnston's Caleb Helgeson.
Ben Kueter, Iowa City High: Kueter won at 160 pounds last year as a freshman. Now he's up at 195, and is considered a top-10 overall prospect in the 2023 class.
- Drake Ayala tops Ryder Block in the finals at 132.
- The CIML will crown nine individual state champs.
- Waverly-Shell Rock edges Waukee for the team title sometime Saturday night.
Team Race Breakdown
This is West Delaware's team race to lose. The Hawks qualified 11 wrestlers for this week, more than any other Class 2A team. Of those 11, seven are seeded fifth or better.
Thing is, it was their team race to lose last year, too — and they lost it. Osage won a state team title for the first time in 39 years last season. The Green Devils are back again with six qualifiers, along with Crestwood's seven and Independence's nine.
So if West Delaware wrestles to its capability, it will win the team title this week. If it slips up, like it did a year ago, it could get interesting, since both Osage and Crestwood have enough firepower to take advantage.
Weights to Watch
113 pounds: Webster City's returning champ Camron Phetxoumphone (pet-sum-pawn) is back as the 1-seed, but he lost in last week's district finals to Crestwood freshman Anders Kittelson. They could meet again in the final.
120 pounds: The semifinals could feature Burlington-Notre Dame's Blaine Frazier against Center Point-Urbana's Cole Whitehead on one side, and Central DeWitt's Keaton Zeimet against Greene County's McKinley Robbins. Don't count out Benton's Jaiden Moore and Bondurant-Farrar's Rylie Anderson, either.
138 pounds: We could see Centerville's Nathaniel Genobana, a three-time finalist, against Assumption's Michael Macias, who beat Genobana last week, in the semifinals, and the winner could get Independence's Isaiah Weber, a two-time finalist.
182 pounds: Union's Adam Ahrendsen is a Northern Iowa signee and a returning champ. Osage's Spencer Mooberry is a North Dakota State signee and a returning finalist. There's also Gilbert's Fernando Villaescusa, an Arizona state champ last year who moved to Iowa. Mooberry could see Villaescusa in the semifinals.
220 pounds: More athletic big men, with West Liberty's Kobe Simon, Central Lyon's Kalen Meyer, Clarinda's Crew Howard, Crestwood's Treyton Burnikel and more highlighting this sneaky fun weight.
Wrestlers to Know
Carter Fousek, Crestwood: The junior has won two state titles and is taking aim at his third this week. Heavy favorite at 126.
Brandon O'Brien, Independence: A state finalist at 106 pounds last year for Linn-Mar in Class 3A. Now he's up at 132 and the 1-seed this week.
Matthew Lewis, Centerville: A senior aiming for his fourth state title. He's wrestling 145 this week. He would be the 29th in state history, and the second from Centerville.
Hayden Taylor, Solon: Another junior two-time champ who is going for No. 3 this week. He's wrestling at 160 this week, and enters with a 109-match win streak.
Wyatt Voelker, West Delaware: Perhaps the state's most under-the-radar talent, if only because the junior doesn't have a state title yet. That should change this week. Voelker is the 1-seed at 195.
- West Delaware will win the team title.
- One of the potential four-timers will lose this week.
- Sergeant Bluff-Luton's Jack Gaukel, a three-time state runner-up, will finally win a title this season.
Team Race Breakdown
The usual suspects are back again. Expect a battle between Don Bosco and Lisbon in Iowa's smallest class.
The Dons, the two-time defending traditional state champs, brought 12 this season, and nine are seeded fifth or better. Lisbon, which won titles in 2018 and 2017, brought 11, and six are seeded fifth or better.
Don't sleep on Logan-Magnolia, either. The Panthers brought seven wrestlers this week, and five are seeded fifth or better. They have enough firepower to push the top two. West Sioux and New London could also be factors for third-place.
Don Bosco's firepower might be too overwhelming for even high-powered Lisbon to keep pace. We saw that last year when the Dons clinched the team crown on Friday night. It's not impossible that they'll do that again this year, but it would be a small surprise if they did. Expect this race to go into Saturday, possibly into the finals.
Weights to Watch
120 pounds: New London's Marcel Lopez, a two-time state champ, is the 1-seed. Lisbon's Brandon Paez, a returning champ, is the 2-seed. Someone's four-time dream will end, one way or another.
126 pounds: Ridiculous depth here, with Woodbury Central's Beau Klingensmith, Central Springs Clayton McDonough, Midland's Damon Huston, Underwood's Stevie Barnes and so many more talented wrestlers. Spots on this podium will be earned.
132 pounds: Cascade's Aidan Noonan, Underwood's Gable Porter, Logan-Magnolia's Hagen Heistand are all three future Division I wrestlers in this bracket. Don't count out West Sioux's Mikey Baker or Don Bosco's Michael McClelland, either.
145 pounds: Could see a Lisbon-Don Bosco final here, between Robert Avila Jr., a two-time champ, and Cael Rahnavardi, a Northern Iowa signee and returning finalist. New London's Dominic Lopez is also tough.
160 pounds: When the weight's top two ranked wrestlers, Hudson's Tate Entriken and Don Bosco's Cael Frost, are the third and fourth seeds, respectively, you know this weight is going to be awesome.
Wrestlers to Know
Kale Petersen, West Fork: One of the state's best pound-for-pound wrestlers, now fully grown at 106 and ready to make some noise this week.
Marcel Lopez, New London: A two-timer going for No. 3 this week, this time at 120 pounds. If he wins his third, he'll end up 60-0.
Max Magayna, Columbus Catholic: Tremendously gifted freshman who's considered the No. 14 overall prospect nationally in the 2024 class. He's at 152 pounds.
Cole Clark, Lisbon: One of the many talented Lisbon wrestlers. Clark's the top-seed at 220 this week, with a 34-0 record.
Chet Buss, North Butler-Clarksville: The returning heavyweight state champ, and another under-the-radar talent.
- Don Bosco tops Lisbon on Saturday night for the team championship.
- One of Logan-Magnolia's Reisz brothers will win an individual title.
- There are 20 undefeated wrestlers entering the week. At least six will finish the season without a loss.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.