BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DES MOINES – Harlan Steffensmeier likes to count by twos. Whether it’s a takedown, or a reversal, or a near fall….or moving up the podium in increments of two at the IHSAA State Wrestling Tournament, Steffensmeier is now the best 152 lb wrestler in the state of Iowa.
Steffensmeier beat Fort Dodge’s Cayd Lara 5-4 to win the title. Lara is the wrestler who had been rated No. 1 and 2 throughout the year. Steffensmeier hovered at No. 4 and 3, according to Iowa Wrestle and The Predicament.
Ironically, it was counting by ones that almost made it a bad day with two single-point penalties in the third period on stalling that brought Fort Dodge’s Cayd Lara back into the match at 3-3, but Steffensmeier was able to grab Lara’s leg and force a takedown to take a 5-3 lead. With just six seconds left in the match, Steffensmeier was called for stalling again, but was able to ride Lara to the buzzer for the win.
“I always dreamed I could do it and I did,” Steffensmeier said.
He said he didn’t really know that he had won until the match was over, but knew the third period was getting crazy.
“After I went down at the beginning, I knew I had to get out and I did it. Then I had to keep the pace going,” he said. “(The official) gave a point against me. It wasn’t stalling, it was something else I’m not sure, but then I took him down. I don’t even have words to describe it.”
Head Coach Ryan Smith stood up at the edge of the mat during the match and told Harlan to not let the refs beat him.
“I said don’t let the ref beat you. If Lara beats you that’s fine, but don’t let the refs win it,” Smith said.
He said Steffensmeier didn’t receive much attention in the rankings or accolades during the year, but never lost focus of what he needed to do.
“It’s beautiful, man. The kid’s just worked his tail off and beaten great people and doesn’t get much respect,” Smith said. “I usually don’t get too excited about those things, but I know he’s the best 152 in the state when he’s dialed in. This is validation for him to know know that, too. A small town kid, good student, works hard, and is now a state champion.”
Steffensmeier’s father said he was dialed in…the whole weekend. But he said the last few penalty points were unjustified.
“You know, all weekend he was focused. He knew what he had to get done. He didn’t shrink from the challenge. He took on the best in the state and beat ’em. He earned it,” Steffensmeier’s father said. “The finals match, I thought the ref made some really bad calls. I got texts right away and when the University of Iowa coach comes up to me and says, ‘you beat him anyway-great job,’ you know it was bad. But Harlan just out-wrestled him. He out-wrestled all of them.”
“This is a sport that takes an enormous amount of dedication and years of training. And there’s no guarantee you’re going to get the title,” Gary Steffensmeier said. “Other people want that title. You have to believe in yourself and your training and believe in what’s taking place and then execute.”
Harlan has committed to the U.S. Air Force Academy to wrestle and then work to become a fighter pilot. His father said this process will help him succeed there.
“That’s what you have to understand about the importance of sports. It’s not about the winning piece. That’s the byproduct. It’s about the process and now he can duplicate that in anything else he wants to do in life,” Gary Steffensmeier said.
Steffensmeier was down 0-2 in the first period when Lara was able to throw the taller Steffensmeier to the mat as both wrestlers slipped out of the circle. No points were originally given on the takedown, but after a conference between two of the officials, two points were given. Harlan returned the favor in the second period when he caught Lara’s leg on the way off the left side and registered a takedown just before the two slipped off the mat.
Lara is the younger brother of Triston Lara, who knocked Steffensmeier out in the 138 lb semifinals last year. He finished seventh as a freshman at 106, and fifth as a sophomore at 120.
Steffensmeier and Cayd Lara squared off this year on Jan. 13 at the J-Hawk Invitational in Cedar Rapids with Lara coming out with a 6-3 decision. Lara got a 2-point nearfall call and forced Steffensmeier into what Smith called some “high risk” moves that Lara was able to fend off.
Steffensmeier advanced to the title match with a 9-4 win over Jacob Herrmann of Waverly-Shell Rock on Friday night. Steffensmeier controlled the match most of the way with a few hiccups in the third period that allowed Herrmann to get him to the mat, where the senior from Central Lee quickly escaped.
In the afternoon session Friday, he faced West Des Moines Valley’s Grant Stotts, the top-rated wrestler in the quarterfinals. The first period went scoreless. Steffensmeier started the second period down and was able to escape and quickly went after one of Stotts’ legs and worked him into a takedown on the left side of the mat for a 3-0 lead . Stotts was able to score a reversal with just :08 left in the period. Steffensmeier, on top to start the third, was able to roll Stotts around just missing a pin, but did get a 3-point near fall to set the score.
Harlan now becomes the 14th state champion for the Fort Madison High School wrestling team. The senior attends Central Lee High School, but wrestles in the FMHS shared program.
Previous FMHS champs include:
1968 – Larry Blanos – 127 lbs
1974 – Randy Lampe – 98 lbs
1980 – Pat Pickford – 112 lbs
1986 – Gary Steffensmeier – 112 lbs
1987 – Gary Steffensmeier – 119 lbs
1993 – Jason Crooks – 171 lbs
1994 – Jason Crooks – 189 lbs
1994 – Victor Martinez – 125 lbs
1995 – Nick Flach – 125 lbs
1996 – Nick Flach – 135 lbs
2004 – Russell Weakley -103 lbs
2005 – Russell Weakley – 112 lbs
2006 – Gordon Johnson – 195 lbs
A congratulatory celebration will be held at FMHS Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.