April 17, 2024

Four Panthers medal at state wrestling

Austin Evans earns a takedown on Ashton Moreno of Algona in the blood rounds. Evans won the bout 5-0 and went on to take seventh at 144.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story on the 2024 IHSAA State Wrestling Tournament. Part two will run on Friday.

DES MOINES — All year, the Panthers have boasted a balanced lineup. It was this balance that led them to a Class 2A state duals title and to sending a record-high 11 wrestlers to the state tournament.

“We have a unique team. We don’t have that surefire state champion,” Creston coach Cody Downing said. “It might not be the best team Creston’s ever had. It might be the grittiest, though. We fight, we come back.”

And sure enough, by day three, all Panther wrestlers were eliminated from wrestling in the finals. Yet Creston hung near the top in team scores. After four days, Creston placed fifth with 78 points, only 1.5 points back from Burlington-Notre Dame in fourth. The team came in ranked outside the top 10.

All nine starting seniors competed last week at the Wells Fargo Arena and they were joined by two sophomores. Four wrestlers battled all four days until they earned a spot on the podium, two of them place-winners from last year.

The work of all 11 wrestlers resulted in 26 wins, another school record for most wins at the state tournament in Creston history. It was also the most wins by any Class 2A team at the tournament.

Seniors Christian Ahrens (120), Max Chapman (285), Austin Evans (144) and sophomore Lane Travis (113) all ended up on the podium by the end of the four-day tournament, but their paths to earning their medal couldn’t have been more different.

The Target

All season, Ahrens has had a target on his back. Since his early defeat of Vinny Mayberry of Glenwood, he has been ranked No. 2 at 120 in Class 2A.

Throughout the season, Ahrens logged only four losses, one a medical forfeit. His losses came to three state qualifiers: Eli Becerra of Missouri Valley (1A fourth place), 2A one-seed Kaden Weber of Nevada and Indianola’s Mac Crosson (3A third place at 113).

He came into the 120 state bracket as the four seed behind Weber, Mayberry and Carter Schmauss of Crestwood, Cresco. But the bracket played out in a way no one could have seen coming.

“The 120 bracket is messed up,” Downing said. “One and two didn’t even place. You can’t hide. I think the 120 bracket might have been the best in 2A. Any of those guys could have won that bracket.”

A year ago, Ahrens earned eighth, and he looked to improve upon that performance.

Ahrens won his first bout to qualify for the quarterfinals, but fell to Emmitt Newton (No. 5) of Davis County in a 4-1 decision.

“I had a lot of support after I lost,” Ahrens said. “A lot of support from a lot of guys telling me to keep my head held high and bounce back and that’s exactly what I did these last two days.”

It was his first match on the back side he felt the most nervous for. But against Isaac Wilson of Algona, he proved to be the wrestler he’d been all season, winning in a third-period pin after going up 10-0.

Christian Ahrens works to roll Isaac Wilson of Algona Friday at the IHSAA State Wrestling Tournament. Ahrens won the bout in a third-period pin before advancing to place fourth.

“I went out and did everything right, and walked away untouched,” Ahrens said. “I couldn’t be happier about that one.”

Despite his elimination from wrestling in the finals match, Ahrens was determined to earn a spot in the third-place bout.

“I love the way our kids battled back,” Downing said. “You get your heart broken on the front side, you can’t be a state champion, but you have to come back and fight.”

The next opponent was Kaydin Jones of Union-LaPorte City. Going up against the 12 seed, Ahrens should have felt confident. But Jones had just knocked out Weber of Nevada, the No. 1 seed, in an 8-7 decision.

Ahrens wrestled confidently and was able to get out of another match unscathed, winning 5-0, only one more bout to go to earn a spot in the third-place match.

Here he faced another challenge — the three-seed Schmauss. Ahrens came out strong in the bout, earning a takedown in the first period and a reversal in the second to go up 4-0. In the third period, Schmauss worked a comeback, but he didn’t have enough time, falling 5-4.

The win sent Ahrens for a rematch with Newton, this time for third place. Once again, Newton won the bout in a narrow decision, this time 3-2.

“Newton’s a bit of a contrast,” Downing said. “He’s short, stocky, really strong kid. Christian has nothing to be ashamed of.”

Ahrens earned fourth behind Newton, sophomore Ryan Bahnson of West Lyon (No. 7) and the freshman champion Gage Spurgeon of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.

“Walking away last year with eighth, I didn’t know if I’d get back to the tournament and honestly step on that stand again,” Ahrens said. “I was pretty happy walking away with eighth. I didn’t expect myself to be walking away with a higher spot this year, but here I am and I’m happy to say I’m fourth.”

The Energizer

If there’s one wrestler who can consistently get the energy moving for the Panthers, it’s Chapman. His attitude is infectious and as Downing said, he’s an easy guy to get behind.

At the state duals, his three quick pins helped the Panthers keep momentum throughout the day. Coming into the tournament, he was riding on a streak of eight sequential pins, seven of them in the first period. He added three more first-period pins during the tournament.

Though Chapman was ranked fifth by IAWrestle, he came in seeded seventh. He only had six losses on the season at the start of the four-day tournament.

With a round one bye, Chapman faced the 10-seed Michael Bormann of Wahlert-Dubuque, in round two. Chapman made quick work of his opponent with a 26 second pin to qualify for the quarterfinals.

His quarterfinal opponent was two-seed Paul Ballard of Albia, an undefeated senior wrestler. The wrestlers went six minutes, but Ballard earned the 7-2 decision, sending Chapman to the blood round, where the winner medals and the loser is eliminated.

“Being here last year, he lost the blood round, a match away from placing,” Downing said. “I think it was motivation for him.”

His blood round opponent was a familiar one — Evan Sorensen of Atlantic. “He had to beat Sorensen,” Downing added. “It seems like they’ve wrestled 100 times over the last four years.”

In the way only he can do, Chapman brought the energy to the bout, pinning his foe in just over a minute to guarantee a podium spot.

Max Chapman holds Evan Sorensen of Atlantic to the mat in the blood rounds Friday. Chapman won the bout and advanced to take fifth at 285.

But the battle wasn’t over yet. He had higher hopes than just making it on the podium. One of those goals was to top his brother Sam’s sixth place finish in 2020.

In order to do so, he’d have to defeat Trent Cakerice of AP-GC. The match almost saw the end of Chapman’s goals. Cakerice earned the first takedown, but Chapman was able to find an escape and a takedown, earning two back points.

With seven seconds left, Cakerice got a reversal, Chapman on his back. The ref slapped his palm on the mat, calling a pin. But after conferring with the other referee, it was determined the pin occurred after the clock struck zero.

Chapman was given a second chance. He started down in the second period and was able to find a reversal and a pin on Cakerice, keeping his goal alive.

To wrestle for third, he would have to defeat Carter Heilskov, the four-seed from Hampton-Dumont-CAL. Nothing happened in the first period, but in the second, Heilskov earned a reversal and a pin, sending Chapman to wrestle for fifth.

Chapman had recently faced his fifth-place opponent, Ethan Wood, the five-seed from Mount Vernon. At the state duals, Chapman earned a quick pin over Wood.

“I think he was confident going into that,” Downing said. “He knew what he needed to do to get that match.”

The match took less than 30 seconds, Chapman getting Wood on his back quickly, earning a pin and bragging rights over his brother.

“He really earned this medal,” Downing said. “It was a good tournament for him.”

The Leader

Despite a host of accolades on his resume, Evans brings more than just his wrestling prowess to the Creston team.

“Austin’s our leader,” Downing said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s a kid I can count on. If there’s something I need to tell the team or a message I need to get across to the team, Austin’s the guy I go to.”

At the tournament, Evans was the first of his teammates to reach the 150-wins milestone. A year ago, he earned a seventh-place podium spot at 138, and he came into the tournament ranked and seeded fifth at 144.

An individual Hawkeye 10 champion, John J. Harris champion and district champion, Evans is a highly decorated Panthers wrestler.

Earning a first round bye, Evans wrestled in round two against Tucker Wheeler, the 12-seed from Prairie City-Monroe. Wheeler came in ranked low after falling to Evans in the district finals.

This time, it was Wheeler coming out on top. Evans earned the first five points, but Wheeler went on a late run, scoring six unanswered to take the victory. Suddenly, Evans was in the consolation bracket after only six minutes on the mat.

“I thought maybe we were a little flat in the first match against Wheeler,” Downing said. “I’m not sure I like the first round bye. I think a match before would have helped us there.”

Wheeler went on to take down the four seed, Jackson Jaspers of Mount Vernon in the quarterfinals before ultimately placing fourth.

On the back side, Evans came out unscathed against Irving Ramirez of MOC-Floyd Valley in a first-period pin and Easton Wheeler of Anamosa, winning in a 9-0 major decision.

In the blood round, Evans faced Ashton Moreno, the eight-seed from Algona. The 5-0 win secured back-to-back state medals for the senior.

Now it was Evans’ turn to take on Jaspers. The bout was a rematch from the state duals where Jaspers won in a decision.

The match was slow, the only point going to Jaspers with an escape. The 1-0 loss sent Evans to wrestle for seventh.

“To place here gets harder and harder every year,” Downing said. “I think you could redraw that 144 bracket 10 times and one through eight finishes 10 different ways. I think it was pretty balanced one through eight.”

His win over Jackson Kinnetz of Bishop Heelan Catholic came in a first-period pin to earn seventh place.

“I know he’s not where he wanted to be, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Downing said. “He had a great career and a good tournament.”

The Underdog

The state tournament features 24 wrestlers vying for eight podium spots. Seeding can make a big difference, the lower the seeding, the higher caliber the opponents the wrestler will face.

Sophomore Lane Travis earned his spot at the state tournament with an overtime wrestle back at districts. He came into state seeded 18th. His path to the podium would involve facing six wrestlers all seeded higher than him. But four of them would be surprised by the young wrestler as he defied the odds.

In round one, Travis faced Ryan Cassady of West Liberty. Cassady earned the first two takedowns, going up 4-1 early in the second period. Travis continued to fight and came back to earn a commanding 10-5 win.

From there, he faced the two-seed, Linden Phetxoumphone, of Webster City. After a 16-1 technical fall, Phetxoumphone sent Travis to the consolation bracket.

In the first round on the back side, Travis faced a similarly-ranked opponent, Jacob Nelson, of Columbus. Travis won the bout 4-0 to survive and advance.

From there, he would need to defeat top-10 opponents in order to continue in the tournament. For Travis, it was a huge help having Downing and assistant coach Kruz Adamson in his corner.

To make it to the blood round, Travis would have to defeat the 10-seed, Austin Hansen of Estherville-Lincoln Central. Hansen came out fast, taking him down getting Travis on his back early. Travis escaped, but was quickly taken down again. With only seconds left in the first period, Travis got a reversal to narrow the lead to 6-3.

Lane Travis vies for control with the 10-seed Austin Hansen of Estherville Lincoln Central. Travis won the bout in overtime before advancing to place eighth at 113.

In the second period, Hansen outscored Travis 3-1, leading 9-4 with two minutes left to wrestle. Travis escaped immediately in the final period. With 30 seconds to go, he took Hansen down, earning back two back points to tie the bout at 9 apiece.

In overtime, it was Travis who came away with the sudden death takedown and the win.

“Lane’s probably one of my highlights of the week,” Ahrens said. “Every day, I tell him how could he is and how much he needs to believe in himself and that he’s a lot better than he thinks he is. He’s shown it.”

In the blood round, Travis would need to defeat the six-seed, Lincoln Schropp of Williamsburg, a junior who came into the tournament with only four losses.

By early in the second period, Schropp had a 4-0 lead. But Travis had been in this position before. Down 4-1 in the final period, Travis escaped and earned a late takedown to take the bout to overtime. Once again, it was Travis with the sudden death victory — knocking the six seed out of the tournament.

“They were really tough matches but it all came down to who wanted it more,” Travis said. “It’s all in the heart.”

Downing said Travis has got better and better as the season has progressed. “His work ethic and his conditioning are his biggest attributes right now,” Downing said. “If we can add a little technique and some confidence in our offense, I think we can work our way up the podium.”

The win guaranteed him a medal, but in order to keep fighting for a spot in the third-place match, he would now face the three-seed, Jayson Stevens of Hampton Dumont-CAL. Stevens earned the win with a late first-period pin, sending Travis to wrestle for seventh.

In the seventh-place bout, Travis fell to Jayce Curry, the nine-seed from Sergeant Bluff-Luton. The loss placed him eighth on the podium, 10 spots higher than his seeded position.

“Now he has the same expectations that the seniors this year had,” Ahrens said. “He’s becoming a leader and it’s making me really proud.”

Downing agreed, saying the young place winner is refreshing looking forward. “It’s how we are going to build our program back after graduating a large class. Lane’s a guy who can lead the charge for us.”

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.