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Spartans to state dual

Eight Solon wrestlers to individual tournament Feb. 15
The Solon wrestling team poses with its state dual meet qualification banner after a 37-34 regional dual win over West Liberty Feb. 6 in West Liberty. (photos by Mary Hadenfeldt)

WEST LIBERTY– It all came down to the last two matches for Solon.
After rolling to a 45-24 win over Independence in the opening meet of the regional duals Feb. 6 in West Liberty, the Spartan varsity wrestling team faced off with the home Comets for a berth in the 2018 State Dual Tournament.
Despite leading by 17 points midway through the meet, Solon found itself trailing 34-29 with just the 160 and 170 pound matches remaining.
“We knew we had to win both of those matches,” Solon Head Wrestling Coach Blake Williams said. “There was no ifs ands or buts about it.”
Williams and his coaching staff had shuffled the lineup against the sixth-ranked Comets, moving a number of Spartans up a weight class.
“We did that because we thought that would be best for the team and we tried to take advantage of some matchups,” he said. “For the most part if worked for us.”
It was taking a chance, he said, “because you never know how the kids will react if we ask them to move up a weight because they’re giving up five or seven or eight pounds. But boy, they didn’t hesitate.”
And that’s why Zack Bevans, after wrestling most of the year at 152 pounds, was facing West Liberty’s Austin Beaver at 160 pounds with Solon trailing by five points. Jax Flynn, at 170 pounds, would face West Liberty’s A.J. Lenz in the finale.
“I remember going up to them and telling them before the match, ‘There’s nobody else I’d rather have in this situation. You two should be confident in what you can do, and just go out and do it,’” Williams recalled.
Bevans did a “workmanlike job,” controlling the match for a 6-0 decision, Williams said, pulling the Spartans to within two.
Flynn and Lenz took to the mat, and before Williams could get turned around, Flynn was on his back with a near-fall.
“They gym was extremely loud,” he said. “West Liberty had a great fan showing and we did too, but being at home they had a lot.”
But Flynn battled out with a reverse and his own near-fall points.
“Finally, Jax got him on his back for good and got the fall,” he continued. “It was neat to see the reaction of the team and the fans. Everybody was just going nuts for 30 seconds or a minute.”
The pin, in 3:22, gave Solon a 38-34 win, although the Spartans were nicked a point for celebration, and punched Solon’s ticket to the state dual wrestling meet Wednesday, Feb. 14, at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“It was just an excellent high school wrestling meet,” Williams said. “I’ve had so many people say to me how exciting it was, how nerve-wracking it was just for fans. Even the refs said what a great meet it was. It’s too bad one of those teams had to stay home.”
The Spartans entered the Class 2A duals as the seventh seed, facing second-seeded Clarion-Goldfield-Dows at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“I think not many people outside our program thought we could probably get back there, given all the firepower we lost from last year,” Williams said. “All year long, these guys just kept proving people wrong.”
The varsity team expected to head to Des Moines Tuesday after practice for weigh-ins and photos, with three dual matches guaranteed by the end of the day.
Whatever the outcome, five Spartans turn around the next day to begin competing in the state individual tournament, defending Solon’s first-ever state championship title from 2017. Solon advanced eight wrestlers to the 2017 tournament, the most in school history.
“There’s not much down time,” Williams noted.
Zeb Gnida (120 pounds), Andy Brokaw (138), Bevans (152), Mike Hoyle (182) and Tyler Linderbaum (285) qualified for the 2018 trip to state after a Class 2A District 2 tournament in DeWitt Feb. 10.
Gnida, Hoyle and Linderbaum were crowned champions, while Brokaw and Bevans were runners-up.
The Spartans also came away with the district team title, winning comfortably with 106 points. Dyersville Beckman was second with 73.5.
Gnida, a sophomore, earned the title at 120 with a 6-4 sudden victory over a familiar opponent, Caleb Fuessley of Center Point-Urbana. Fuessley had defeated Gnida twice earlier in the year and was ranked ahead of him.
Williams thought Brokaw, a junior, had a pretty good shot, despite his 31-21 record entering the tournament.
“He’s done a nice job all year,” Williams said. “Last year, he was not in our varsity lineup. He was behind a lot of real good wrestlers around his weight. To go from JV to being a state qualifier, that’s a testament to him and how hard he’s worked.”
Hoyle took a 4-3 decision over Owen Grover of Dyersville Beckman for his berth in the tournament, while Linderbaum took a 4-1 decision against Blake Bradley of Dubuque Wahlert in his title match.
Left just short of the tournament were two successful seniors– Christian Haight at 132 pounds and Zach Wegmann at 220.
“They both had very tough brackets,” Williams explained. “I feel for them and I know they’re hurting, but hopefully them getting to wrestle three times in the duals, at least they can look forward to that.”
Haight has been a four-year member of the varsity squad, Wegmann three, and both have amassed over 100 individual wins.
“They’ve done so much and been huge parts of the program over the years,” he said. “They’ve a lot to be proud of.”
The 2018 individual tournament begins Thursday, Feb. 15, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines and runs through Saturday, Feb. 17.