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Rob Sherrill: Three team races that mesmerized prep wrestling
By Rob Sherrill
One of the more exciting NCAA Championships in recent memory did more than conclude a special collegiate season. It also supplied a fitting follow-up to a six-week odyssey of high school state tournaments that supplied plenty of thrills, especially from a team standpoint.
A look at our final Top 25 Teams list shows that most boat-raced their respective fields en route to championships. They range from the very first for No. 13 Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North High, chronicled in this column in the last issue, to the 31st National Prep Championships title in a row for No. 2 Blairstown Township (N.J.) Blair Academy, extending their own national record in any sport.
Three other Top 25 teams own double-digit streaks, with No. 4 St. Paris (Ohio) Graham High and No. 5 Brandon (Fla.) High winning for the 11th straight year and No. 20 Christiansburg (Va.) High extending its streak to 10.
Some teams, however, were involved in title showdowns that even their state tournaments may not have settled. With each passing week, it seemed, a different team could claim an advantage. And, as the Penn State-Cornell showdown made the NCAAs fun to watch this year, these team races also generated plenty of interest and discussion.
So here are three team races … in three wrestling hotbeds … that elevated state tournament interest to a fever pitch.
Clovis and Bakersfield, California
As two-team races go, this showdown between the kings of the state’s Central Section, the top wrestling section in the Golden State, couldn’t be topped.
In the end, Clovis took the state title, 186-177, thanks largely to balance. The Cougars advanced all 14 wrestlers to the state tournament and all 14 scored. Junior Daniel Gaytan (119) and freshman Nick Nevills (HWT) won titles to pace a 9-8 edge in place-winners (no other school had more than three). That made up for a bevy of low places: a pair of fifth-place finishes, a sixth-place finish and three seventh-places.
Bakersfield, meanwhile, had 10 state qualifiers, with senior Bryce Hammond, WIN’s top-ranked 160-pounder, winning his second state title. The Drillers also got big mileage out of their middle weights. Junior Natrelle Demison (130) and seniors Tim Box (135) and Adam Fierro (152) all finished third, with juniors Micah Cruz (125) and Silas Nacita (171) finishing fourth. But the Driller Express was derailed in a disastrous semifinal round that saw them win just once in five matches.
The two teams met four times head-to-head, with each team winning twice.
Lombard Montini , Aurora Marmion Academy and Crystal Lake Central, Illinois
We profiled the three teams that dominated Illinois’ middle class, Class AA, in this column in WIN’s High School Preview issue last November, and none of the three disappointed. As late as mid-January, however, this looked like a two-team race. Marmion finished fourth — just a half-point out of third — in the Walsh Ironman Invitational in early December, with Montini finishing a distant 23rd.
Two weeks later, in the Al Dvorak Memorial Invitational at Machesney Park Harlem High, Marmion and Crystal Lake Central waged a team-title fight to the finish, with the Cadets prevailing 204.5-199.5. Montini (161.5) rounded out the top five behind No. 11 Iowa City (Iowa) West High (188) and Glenbard North (179).
The landscape changed permanently in a landmark quad at Marmion on Jan. 15, when the hosts shockingly went 0-3 with losses to No. 3 Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward High, Iowa City West and Montini, 31-30.
It was to be the first of back-to-back one-point wins by the Broncos over the Cadets. In the individual regional at Yorkville High — which would determine the team to advance to the dual state tournament series — Montini prevailed again, this time by a 242-241 score.
Marmion went on to tie a state record with five individual state champions and Crystal Lake Central (four) and Montini (three) combined to give the three schools 12 of the 14 AA titlists. But it was Montini that took home the state championship trophy, 39-29 over Crystal Lake Central in the title match.
In 2010, Montini beat Marmion twice in dual meets, by an average of 28 points. The Cadets sliced that margin by 27 points this year and they’ll be heard from again. But the Broncos’ years of big-match experience gave them not only a fourth straight Illinois title, but a spot in our final Top 25.
Iowa City West, Bettendorf and Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa
We saved the best for last. If there’s ever been a tighter race anywhere between three teams — the kingpins of big-school Class 3A — we haven’t seen it.
Iowa City West and Waverly-Shell Rock had been double champions — individual and dual — for six straight years, with Waverly-Shell Rock taking the past three double crowns. But Bettendorf crashed the party in 2010 by finishing second in the individual state meet, then falling to the Go-Hawks, 34-31, in the dual semifinals.
The first showdown of this season went to Waverly-Shell Rock, which prevailed in the Five Seasons Duals at Cedar Rapids in December over both teams. Bettendorf, however, returned the favor at The Clash National Duals in January. The Bulldogs finished fifth at the Rochester (Minn.) Civic Center with a 5-1 record — the lone loss to No. 1 Apple Valley High — and beat the Go-Hawks 31-23 the second day, also recording victories over Glenbard North and Montini.
That set up a battle for the ages in the individual state meet. All three held the lead in the finals, and it went down to the final match, a winner-take-all duel between defending state champions.
Bettendorf qualified 13, Waverly-Shell Rock 12 and Iowa City West 11. Bettendorf placed nine and got points from all 13, while Iowa City West placed eight and Waverly-Shell Rock seven. The Bulldogs had 148 points and the lead over the Go-Hawks (143) and the Trojans (141) entering the finals.
But that would be it for Bettendorf, as both its finalists lost. Iowa City West, which had four finalists, took the lead as Phillip Laux won a major decision at 103 and Jack Hathaway (125) also won. Now the Trojans held a two-point lead, 150-148-143.
Cody Caldwell’s second title at 152 brought Waverly-Shell Rock closer at 150-148-147. Finally, Cody Krumwiede, the state champion at 215 the past two seasons, took the mat at heavyweight against Bettendorf’s Brodie Berrie, who won at that weight last year.
And the Northern Iowa recruit lifted the Go-Hawks from third place to the championship, shutting out Berrie in a 10-0 major decision.
The following week, though, the Five Seasons Center was not as kind to the Go-Hawks as it had been two months earlier. Bettendorf dethroned the three-time defending champions, 31-22 in the dual semifinals. Iowa City West was waiting in the final, and the Trojans prevailed, 33-19.
So who’s No. 1? Trophies have been awarded, but the question lingers on.