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New kids in town

Solon wrestling team welcomes Highland state champions
The Solon varsity wrestling team poses for a photo in the high school wrestling room. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

SOLON– One wrestler does not a team make, but it doesn’t hurt to add some fresh talent.
And this year two shining seniors from Riverside have grappled their way onto the Solon wrestling team, which kicks off its varsity season Thursday, Dec. 1, with a 6 p.m. dual at Williamsburg.
“It was kind of a surprise, but I think they’ve really fit in well with the rest of the guys,” said Solon head coach Blake Williams, who led the team to an 8-3 conference record last year and 16-5 overall.
Twin brothers Drew and Bryce West, who previously wrestled for 1A Highland, will sport Spartan orange and black this winter and bring four state champion titles to the Solon mat. While Drew hasn’t seen first place at state since 2014, Bryce took the 2016 state title at 120 pounds, and both have at least stood on the podium every year of their high school careers at either 120 or 126.
Drew has a 57-12 career record with 37 pins, eight technical falls and three major decisions. Bryce ranks slightly higher with a 50-6 career record, 35 pins, eight technical falls and four major decisions.
“They’ve obviously got a lot of credentials and are great wrestlers,” said Williams. “The hardest part of that is it might potentially take somebody out of the lineup that’s been working hard.”
Williams, who returned to Solon last year after a 12-year stint at Cedar Rapids Prairie, said he hopes the weights will work themselves out once body fat tests are taken and each wrestler knows how far up and down he can move.
“I’m confident that we’ll be able to get the best kids in the lineup and spread them out enough where hopefully they’re all wrestling,” he added.
And hopefully some at Wells Fargo come February.
Solon has had only three state champs since 1926, the most recent being 220-pound Lance Evans– now a wrestler at Wartburg College– in 2014.
Seniors Trevor Nelson and Ben Carr, who wrestled at 160 and 126 last season respectively, were the only returning Spartans to place at the 2016 state tournament. After three decisions in his favor, Nelson fell to senior Zach Johnston of ADM in the first-place match, finishing the season with a 47-4 career record and 26 pins. Carr won his opening match but fell in the quarterfinal and after two consolation rounds finished seventh in a 6-4 decision over New Hampton’s Tyler Shatek. He rounded out the season with a 43-10 career record and 22 pins.
Solon assistant coach T.J. Bevans said Carr will likely bump up at least one weight class, making room for the West boys to settle in.
“It’ll work itself out one way or another,” he said.
Other returning seniors are Dillon Diltz, a 2016 state qualifier, Joe Lovan, Shane Welty, and 2015 state qualifier Graeson Dall. The eight seniors join four juniors, 12 sophomores and 14 freshmen.
Also new to the long list of volunteer coaches is Jesse Hahn, who finished his wrestling career at Highland a year ahead of the West boys.
While Bevans said it’s common for a few wrestlers to drop out, the team should still be sitting at around 35 guys, including promising incoming freshmen Jax Flynn and Zeb Gnida.
“Last year we had 22, so that’s very encouraging,” said Williams. “It’s exciting to come into a room and you see full instead of half-full. It gets a lot warmer a lot quicker up there when you have 14 more bodies, but that’s all right. That’s a good problem to have for sure.
“Now we’ve just got to build off that and get a lot of these kids that have inexperience and get them some experience,” he added.
Williams said the team should have a wrestler at every weight class although not much depth in the heavier weights.
Bevans added this could even be the year the team makes it to the state duals for the second time in Solon wrestling history.
“If not, then something will have went way wrong,” he added.
A state dual appearance would be extra special for Williams; he was the coach that led the Spartans there in 2001 during his first career run at Solon.
“We haven’t really talked about it much as a team, but I think it’s in the back of everybody’s minds,” he said. “It’s definitely possible and attainable, but it’s definitely not just going to happen because we have some good wrestlers. I think they know that. I think they know they’re going to have to work harder than they ever have to try to achieve that goal.”
That hard work will start with their first weekend tournament in Independence, Dec. 2-3, which both Williams and Bevans said should be more challenging than most of the wrestlers’ state brackets. Twenty-five teams, including several 3A schools, will compete in the two-day tournament.
“It will be a good measure to see where we’re at individually and as a team,” Williams said. “I think it’s important to wrestle some of the best competition so when you get to the end you feel ready.”
Williams said Western Dubuque will be the team to beat this year after they dominated the conference tournament last year and are returning most of their team. The Spartans face them Thursday, Dec. 15, at Anamosa.
“The first couple of weeks they know is tough because one they’re probably out of shape, two they’re probably a little overweight, and three they just want to get out there and compete and wrestle other people,” said Williams. “I don’t think we’re going to look ahead as far as the end. We just want to take it day-by-day and week-by-week and enjoy the process and enjoy the journey and hopefully at the end have something to celebrate.”
Solon hosts the Solon Dual Tournament Thursday, Dec. 22, at 4 p.m., with Keokuk, Prairie City-Monroe and Wilton; a triangular dual Thursday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m., with Central DeWitt and West Delaware; the 13-team Solon Ed Hadenfeldt Invitational Saturday, Jan. 14, starting at 9 a.m.; and a quad meet Thursday, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m., with Maquoketa, Marion and Vinton-Shellsburg.