BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Head Coach Ryan Smith pretty much scoffs as preseason rankings. Actually, he puts most rankings aside and challenges his wrestlers to win the match they’re in.
But two Fort Madison Bloodhounds are on the IAWrestle preseason ranking sheets with last year’s heavyweight state qualifier Danen Settles at No. 5 this year, and senior Diego Lozano cracking the top 10 at No 9 at 195.
“Obviously it’s nice for these kids to be recognized, but you have to take all that with a grain of salt until you step on the mat,” Smith said.
Smith has close to 40 wrestlers this year, and after Saturday’s wrestle off at the Fort Madison High School’s Mick Pickford Wrestling room, has a good idea where the season will start.
“This is probably the highest number we’ve had in quite a few years,” he said.
“A lot of first timers and a great group, really hard working. This is probably the first group I’ve ever had that are asking for another live round when we’re trying to get to cool downs.”
He said numbers tend to go in cycles and the program is in a good cycle. He also attributed the increased interest to the school’s athletic enhancement program administered by assistant coach Derek Doherty.
“We’re in a good cycle where the kids are interacting in the weight rooms and maybe that’s getting some of these kids to give it a shot.”
Settles landed on the podium last year as a junior at 8th place after falling in the 7th place match at Wells Fargo Arena to Iowa City High’s Jacob Murry. Then a junior, Settles took Murry to a 2nd overtime in district’s the week before.
Settles said he looks to move on the podium this year.
“I just wanna get on the podium as high as I can. Win it,” he said. “Everything is the same, but a little tweak in the weight room. We went to an app instead of a written program.”
Lozano, who’ll wrestle at 195 this year, just missed state last year with a 3rd place finish at districts, and said the preseason accolades don’t go far. He said he has to beat whomever is on the mat.
“This just tells me that I can beat these guys so why not get out and do it,” Lozano said.
He said his goal is to get on the podium in Des Moines in February, but he’d also like to see the Hounds win the Southeast conference and advance to state in duals.
Lozano ran into a scary situation last week, when holding a water bottle cap in his teeth, he laughed at something and the cap shot into his esophagus. The senior began choking and actually slipped out of consciousness before FMHS teacher Malissa Nelson repeatedly performed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the cap.
Smith said the Hounds will also be looking to sophomore Gavin Wiseman at 132, and Owen Kruse at 120. Wiseman finished 3rd at districts last year at 126 and Kruse finished 4th at 106. Kruse will wrestle at 120 this year.
Senior Nathan Steffensmeier is also moving up weight classes from 138 to 170 lbs for his final year.
“Gavin’s just a sophomore and he’s determined and Nate Steffensmeier’s been working hard and has been a pleasant surprise from a leadership standpoint. He didn’t do the camp stuff this year, but he’s been very vocal so that’s been impressive,” Smith said.
Wiseman said he did a wrestling camp this summer, but running track and playing football have helped him with weight and strength in the off-season.
“You just take on anybody and don’t listen to rankings,” Wiseman said. “You can’t pay attention to that, you just have to wrestle your matches.”
Steffensmeier said his goals this year would be to have a winning record and get to state.
“I’m taking it one step at a time and don’t want to look too far ahead, so right now I’m just thinking of getting there.”
Smith said the Hounds are deep in middle weights and thin at 126 where Central Lee’s Gage Roberts can make an impact. Central Lee’s Chance Hocker will handle the 182 lb action to start the year after beating Bryce Britton in Saturday’s wrestle off.
“I was hoping that match would’ve went the distance, but that’s how it goes sometimes,” Smith.
The Hounds will have two other Settles in the starting rotation when they open the season Thursday night against Quincy at the HoundDome.
Jarrett Settles will compete at 220 lbs while Tanner Settles will wrestle at 145lbs. Other starters Thursday will include Emmett Kruse at 106, Matthew Steffensmeier at 113, junior Will Larson will go at 138. Jakob McGowan, who’s coming off a leg injury, looked good Saturday and will take the mat at 152.
Central Lee’s Mason Schau will go at 160 after pushing Nathan Steffensmeier in a challenge match Monday to 170 lbs.
Smith said the Hounds have depth so younger wrestlers will get experience before having to take the mat.
“We got a lot of solid prospects, we won’t have a lot of freshman in the lineup, which is a good thing, because if you’re using freshman you’re probably pretty thin.”
A couple other southeast Iowa wrestlers were listed in the IAWrestle preseason rankings. Burlington’s Duncan Delzell is 7th at 132 lbs and Notre Dame-West Burlington/Danville’s Griffin Molle is 7th at 138 lbs.