State titles fuel desire for more

HS journalism: Success can vary from year to year

Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands, wrestling Dubuque Hempstead’s Alex Ward at last year’s MVC tournament, has experienced multiple state titles. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands, wrestling Dubuque Hempstead’s Alex Ward at last year’s MVC tournament, has experienced multiple state titles. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Most student-athletes dream of becoming a state champion at some point during their high school career.

Only a handful can achieve this feat, with an even smaller portion able to come out on top multiple times.

Iowa City West senior Nelson Brands is one of that handful, having won a state wrestling title his sophomore year after not qualifying as a freshman. Last year, he repeated the feat.

“(Winning state was) really fulfilling, like all the hard work paid off,” Brands said. “Junior year was pretty much the same except kind of putting a stamp on it.”

Similarly, West senior Bailey Nock went into the 2016 cross country state championships as the underdog. She let this motivate her and ultimately finished first.

“These people online had ranked me seventh; nobody (thought I was) going to win. My motivation was basically (to) prove people wrong,” Nock said. “It was amazing. It was like I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I just remember (it) being the happiest moment of my life.”

The road to an individual state championship had different obstacles for these two. Brands felt a sense of confidence, but Nock had a different experience.

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Following a third-place finish her freshman year, Nock entered her sophomore year as the top returning finisher, earning the No. 1 individual ranking. After winning her junior year, she received more attention from the media as a senior and was favored to come out on top again.

“I did not handle it in any way that I should’ve,” she said. “I saw that I was No. 1 and I let it get to me. It completely destroyed me mentally.

“(My senior year), all eyes were on me, which was opposite from the previous year where nobody was looking at me. But I’d say throughout my junior year I had grown so much as a runner. It was just like putting everything aside — Tweets, newspaper articles, headlines saying what I’m going to do at state — and focusing on each meet.”

On the other hand, West senior Seybian Sims and sophomore Micah Frisbie were members of the boys’ basketball and boys’ soccer teams, respectively, that won state titles last year. Both teams return to a predicament this year, having graduated a senior class of players that greatly contributed to their teams.

“We were definitely projected to win since the beginning of the season, just because we had Connor (McCaffery) and Devontae (Lane),” Sims said. “Just because they expect us to win doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. We still have to play for it.”

Only a freshman when he won his first championship, Frisbie witnessed one of the most surprising state soccer tournaments. West won after entering as the No. 8 seeded team.

“It was crazy and I know the public didn’t think it was actually going to happen and we didn’t either, but it happened,” Frisbie said.

Sims returns to try to rebuild the team this year, noting he will be taking the season one game at a time instead of letting his mind jump directly to the state tournament.

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“Some of the guys might feel pressure (to repeat), but I don’t feel pressure because there’s nothing to feel pressure about,” he said. “We’re projected high, I guess, but you just play.”

Frisbie feels similarly, though his team last year was not favored to win.

“I definitely want to win state again but I know it’ll be really hard,” Frisbie said. “I don’t think it’s as expected because everybody knows that we lost a lot of seniors.”

Regardless of the sport, many West High individuals and teams have come back to repeat, with Brands being one of the most recent examples.

Nock’s last performance didn’t go according to plan.

“My mistake (when my opponent passed me) was thinking that she would come back to me instead of I need to go get her,” Nock said of her runner-up finish. “It was frustrating, of course, because it’s your senior year ... but I didn’t want to remember high school cross country for that so I kind of just set it all to the side. My family was still all at the finish line; they were still proud of me.”

The hopes to win still are alive, with many teams and individuals drawing inspiration from last season’s performance.

“When I got (my state champion ring), I put it on right away, took pictures with it, posted it everywhere,” Sims said. “It was fun, I liked it.

“I just want to get two, that’s all it is.”

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