BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – After finishing 3rd at last year’s state wrestling tournament, Central Lee senior Harlan Steffensmeier, who wrestles for Fort Madison High School, said he finished 7th as a freshman, 5th as a sophomore and 3rd as a junior. So his senior year he was looking for a state title.
The soft-spoken, but laser-focused son of 2017 Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame inductee Gary Steffensmeier, said this year he’s grown into his style of wrestling and it’s shown results.
On Saturday, the 35-2 Steffensmeier rode out a 5-4 victory over West Des Moines Valley’s Grant Stotts, at the Ed Winger Classic in Urbandale. A week ago he faced Cayd Lara from North Scott and lost a 6-3 decision. IAWrestle.com has Stotts as the state’s top wrestler at 152, but The Predicament.com has Lara as the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the weight class. Steffensmeier, as of the Jan. 18 rankings, was No. 4 in both ranking publications.
Steffensmeier said he believes he can win every time he takes the mat.
“Looking back on the year, I definitely feel like I’ve grown a lot since the first tournament of the year at Independence,” he said after practice Monday. “I lost there, and I lost last week, but each week I feel like I’m getting better and better.”
Results would prove that correct. The only other loss Steffensmeier has suffered this year was to New Hampton’s Noah Fye at the Independence Invite at the beginning of December. Fye beat Steffensmeier on the front side of the bracket in a 6-0 decision, but Steffensmeier ran into Fye again for 3rd place and got the better of him in a 6-2 decision.
Wrestling at 138 lbs, Steffensmeier was bumped from the championship match by Triston Lara, the older brother of Cayd, in a major decision. This year with the move to 152 lbs, Steffensmeier said he feels his style of wrestling fits better at the heavier weight.
“I feel like every year I’ve had a chance to win state, but this year my style is really clicking and I’ve made a lot of improvements over the summer and during the season. I had to go back and re-evaluate my technique.”
He said he credits his dad, his coaches, and Pablo Ubasa from Ubasa Wrestling Academy.
“Yeah, for sure my dad,” he said. “I wasn’t always wrestling. I didn’t start until 3rd grade and that’s as not young as it gets. My dad always brought me to wrestling meets and I just a got a feel for it and love for it.”
As the wins pile up and the state meet at Wells Fargo Arena set for Feb. 15-17 in Des Moines, Steffensmeier said he just keeps preparing and gearing up for each match.
“I just keep preparing. They’re all tough guys and I have to treat every match the same and can’t look over anybody,” he said. “You make it to state and everyone there is tough in their own way. I just go and prepare myself and get ready to fight.”
This weekend’s win over Stott’s gave him his first title ever at the Urbandale meet, and was the school’s first Outstanding Wrestler award since Bryce Meyer in 2013. Steffensmeier said he was excited with the honor but humbly deflected, saying a lot of the wrestlers there could have earned the award.
“They usually consider the people that get first-place, so I knew I had a chance but I just didn’t know,” he said. “There were people who were more controlling in their matches and they pinned every guy and put up more points than I did. I guess they just liked the way I wrestled and saw I had a good tournament. But I was really excited and I can’t remember if I’ve ever made it to the finals, but I know it was the first time I won the title.”
He said with regards to the match with Stotts, he had to get to his game early.
He’s a really really tough kid and I had to get to my stuff early,” Steffensmeier said. “He scored a couple take downs and that’s 100% on me. I have to go back and change up some things.”
The two each had take downs and escapes in the first period for a 4-4 tie.
“He deferred to me in the second period and I chose bottom and got out and I got a point for that and it was 5-4. The third period he chose down and I was able to ride him through the period. I know if I get on top of someone I have the ability to put a hammer down on them. I feel like I’ve gained some comfort there but I can still wrestle in the other positions, too.”
Steffensmeier revealed that he has committed to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy on a wrestling scholarship where he plans to wrestle for four years and then he’ll have a five-year committment to the Air Force. But in a move that seems to befit this young man, he said he would like to become a pilot and fly fighter jets, which would move his commitment to 10 years of military service.
“I always wrestle because I enjoy it. Everything else comes after that. If you go out there and wrestle and you love getting better then you’re going to get the scholarships and achievements.”
His commitment to the U.S. Air Force begins in June where he’ll go through basic training prior to attending the academy.