BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The final pieces to the puzzle are in place for the Fort Madison wrestling team, as the season opens this weekend in New London.
The Bloodhounds were originally scheduled to compete in the packed two-day Independence Invitational, but that event has been cancelled and the Bloodhounds are staying a little closer to home.
The New London Invitational will feature about 10 teams on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.
Smith said the Hounds wrapped up team competitions Wednesday to see who will have the top spots going into this weekend.
“Some of the weight classes are only one person deep,” Smith said Wednesday. “But we have capable kids that are willing to jump into a spot.”
Anchoring the Hounds this year will be 2020 state qualifier Owen Kruse who’s starting the year at 132 lbs and beat Brock Califf in final tryouts Wednesday. Kruse will likely scale down to the 126 weight class early in the season.
“We’d like to get him back to state and get him on the podium,” Smith said.
Gavin Wiseman is a junior coming a off 24-win season and finished 3rd and 4th at districts in his freshman and sophomore year. He’ll go for the Hounds at 145 this year.
“He’s been right there and Mason’s (Schau) has been right there, but our goal is to maximum everyone’s potential and when it’s all said and done we want them to know they gave it their all.” Smith said.
“Wherever they end up we want them knowing it wasn’t from a lack of effort. They got the most out of themselves. If they can do that – we can live with that. With that being said, if everyone does that we’ll have contenders for state.”
Schau is the only wrestler at 160 at the moment and had 26 wins last year as a junior.
“He had a solid season last year. We’re looking for him to turn the corner and get to state this year. He’s very strong and has a good attitude,” Smith said.
Starting at 106, the Hounds are looking to Henry Wiseman, but the freshman is just over on pounds. Smith said if he can’t go there he’ll be in the mix at 113 with sophomore Emmett Kruse, who’s coming off a 21-18 varsity year last year.
At 120, junior Matt Steffensmeier is the favorite. Steffensmeier lettered last year with 25 wins. Junior Ace Meierotto will contend for time at that weight as well, but Steffensmeier won Wednesday’s final tryout over Meierotto.
Will Gager, who qualified for state in cross country this fall, will wrestle at 126.
Chaz Fullenkamp and new comer Brock Califf will work at 138 lbs. Smith said there are couple kids there, but Califf has impressed in his first year.
Joining Wiseman at 145 is junior Austin Miller. Miller is another cross country qualifier who may push the 138 grouping.
The 152 lb class features some youth including sophomore Aiden Pennock and freshman Teague Smith who placed at the AAU state tournament last year. Eric Millard is also in the mix there. Smith earned the top spot Saturday after defeating Pennock Wednesday.
The Hounds have some depth at 170 with three guys including sophomores Brant Booten and Christian Vincent, and freshman Ike Thacher, who also placed in the AAU tourney last year. Thacher has the advantage here after downing Booten Wednesday.
At 182. Austin Ensminger and Daniel Sokolik are battling for mat time, along with freshman Landon Rudd. Ensminger has the nod out of tryouts.
Smith said Rudd gave senior Levi Lowney a run for his money in tryouts. Lowney will move to 195 to fill an opening there to start the year.
“It nice to have some young guys pushing the seniors,” Smith said.
Nathan Leasch is in his first year of varsity wrestling as a junior and is penciled in at 220.
“This is another hard working kid with a great attitude,” Smith said.
The heavyweight spot is open, but the Hounds have Brody Fuller a 6’6″ sophomore who is 300 plus and has to get some weight off to take the mat.
Smith said this year’s success, again, will be determined by work and effort, and district fields.
“Their work and effort will determine what happens. That and the district field,” Smith said.
“Sometimes you get a district with three hammers at the same weight and some weights with only one tough kid. So it’s hard to make any predictions that way.”
Preseason state rankings are very thin for southeast Iowa wrestlers in Class 3A. Muscatine and Iowa City are the closest schools with anyone listed at any weight class.
The delay in the season, a two-week lock out due to the district going to 100% remote learning as COVID numbers peaked, presented some difficulties, but Smith said it’s nothing other schools aren’t dealing with.
“We couldn’t practice for two weeks and we’re not the only school dealing with it. Some schools haven’t even practiced yet. So we’re taking advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves,” Smith said.
“It’s hard to ignore, but right now knock on wood, we have no cases.”