3A DISTRICT WRESTLING PREVIEW – Settles, Cordray looking for return trips to state; 6th-ranked Hayes poised for run
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison Bloodhounds have had an undulating regular season, but with state qualifying set for Saturday, head coach Ryan Smith hopes his squad will rise, and not fall.
The Hounds are coming off a 61-12 loss at North Scott in a regular season dual meet where only three Hounds came away with wins.
But Smith wants the Hounds to leave everything on the mat Saturday as the districts, which begin at noon at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, weed out two finalists in each weight class for the right to go to the state meet.
The state meet this year is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Feb. 14-16 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Smith said the season-ending loss at North Scott won’t have an impact on the wrestling team.
“That was a tough one up there, but at the same time, we’re happy we can put ourselves in that situation where we face some of the toughest wrestlers in the state,” Smith said.
“We’re gonna see seven different schools on Saturday and I feel good about our kids and where they’re at.”
The Hounds’ Class 3A district includes Iowa City High, West and Liberty, as well as Prairie, Mt. Pleasant, Clear-Creek Amana, and Burlington.
Each weight division, with the exception of 126 lbs, will have a wrestler currently ranked in the top 10 in the state. The brackets at 160 lbs, 170 lbs, and 195 lbs each have two top-ranked wrestlers.
If the brackets play out, Fort Madison senior Sam Hayes, who’s currently sixth in the state at 195 lbs, should be on the opposite side of the bracket from Ashton Stoner-DeGroot of host school Prairie. Stoner-DeGroot is ranked 3rd and 4th in The Predicament and IAWrestle publications.
“Yeah, I don’t like to look ahead in these things, but if the bracket works out, that could be a pretty interesting match,” Smith said. “Sam beat him last year…but that was last year.”
Hayes was ranked last year before suffering an injury that sidelined him for districts and a shot at the state meet.
Fort Madison could be peaking at the right time in several weight classes. Diego Lozano at 182 lbs has been wrestling well, having won four of his last six matches, but was pinned in the other two. Will Hoeft, a junior out of Iowa City West, should be the top seed in the bracket and is ranked 7th in the state.
“If he brings his A game, I’m confident he’ll take care of business,” Smith said of Lozano.
“If he doesn’t, it’s a coin flip whether he goes (to state) or not. When he comes with his energy and focus and determination, he’s hard to stop. When he’s tenacious, he gets the job done pretty quick, but if he’s tentative, it can be over quick.”
Another interesting bracket will be at 126 lbs. where freshman Gavin Wiseman (24-16) doesn’t have a ranked wrestler in his bracket and has wins over Burlington and Mt. Pleasant in the weight class in regular season.
“Gavin could be there. He’s doing very well, works hard, and has a determined mindset,” Smith said. “I won’t count anybody out, especially when they have the work and mindset he has.”
Elton and Owen Kruse, at 113 and 106, both have had solid years and have come on late in the season. Elton, the older brother and senior, has district experience and that should help him in that bracket. But Prairie’s Austin Kegley should be the favorite, currently ranked 3rd in the state.
At 120 lbs, Dayne Cordray has state experience going as a freshman and again as a junior last year after skipping his sophomore year. Standing in the way will be Hunter Garvin of Iowa City West and Kael Scranton of Clear-Creek Amana. Both those wrestlers are freshman with Garvin currently No. 2 in the state.
“That’s a really balanced weight class. The Garvin kid is probably the favorite, but two through five will be balanced and Dayne is really dialed in right now,” Smith said.
Junior Danen Settles will be looking for a return trip to state at 285lbs after making it last year in a dramatic district wrestle back at 220 lbs. Settles is wrestling at 285 this year. As a sophomore he had to wrestle back at districts and ended up beating wrestlers from Burlington and Mt. Pleasant, both of whom had beaten him in the regular season.
Jacob Murry from Iowa City High is ranked 4th in the state at 285.
Smith said districts are a place of surprises and anything can happen, but he just tells his wrestlers to stay focused.
“The big thing is make sure your head’s in the right place and you’re ready to finish strong. Some kids don’t do that toward the end of the season,” Smith said.
“You have to believe in yourself and your training throughout the year. Make sure when you step off, you left everything out there and, win or lose, you feel good about yourself.”
At districts, the champion and runner-up both advance to the state tournament. A third-place finisher can advance if either of the other two are unable to compete in Des Moines on championship weekend.
“From my perspective, all I care about is that the kids bring good effort and good attitude. That’s what I look for as a coach, wins and losses will take care of themselves,” Smith said.