Lisbon wrestling looks like power of old

Lions returns most of state title lineup from a year ago

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LISBON — Lisbon Coach Brad Smith is in his second tenure, coaching a second generation of wrestlers.

Two years after a second-place finish, the Lions could be building their second dynasty. Just like the one that won seven traditional state crowns and three state dual championships from 1979-1991.

Lisbon returned to the top of Class 1A last season after a 24-year hiatus, sweeping the traditional and duals titles for the second time in school history.

It is hard not to draw comparison to the past teams that only finished out of the top-4 once in 13 seasons.

“We had some really consistent teams,” Smith said. “We just reloaded. This year, we basically did that, too.

“It’s exciting to get the program back to where it was. It took a little bit of time to do that, but we got it done. We’re looking forward to a great season.”

The Lions return all but three starters from last year’s dual squad that went 25-4. They also bring back 95 1/2 points and five medalists from the traditional state meet.

“We have a lot of firepower back,” sophomore Cael Happel said. “A couple pretty solid freshmen, so I think this year’s team is better than last year’s team.”

Happel was the 113-pound state champion as a freshman, going 53-3. Senior Cooper Siebrecht, who has signed with Minnesota State, is a three-time state medalist and his brother, Cobe, was the 106-pound state runner-up last year. Bryce Werderman and Ryne Mohrfeld each placed sixth at 170 and 120, respectively. Logan O’Connor (220) and Jake Jennett (195) have state experience.

“We’ve got really good balance,” said Smith, noting that 106 will be an open weight. “We have some good freshmen in the lineup that will really help us out.

“From 113 all the way up we’re pretty solid. We’re not going to lose very many matches in dual meets.”

All of that talent and a few reserves, who could step in for other teams, make for some interesting scraps in the wrestling room. Like those past teams, some matches will be easier than the daily battles in the practice room.

“Everyone gets better when you have a good partner,” Siebrecht said. “When you get into groups, you always have someone tough. Everybody benefits from it.”

The Lions have a strong camaraderie, which pushes them a little harder. They don’t want to let each other down. The wrestlers can be found hanging out, watching movies and even prepping the weekly meals on a Sunday night together.

“Team chemistry is better,” Werderman said. “That can take us even further. Everybody is working for the same goal.”

Happel is among those linked to past teams. His father, Dean, was a three-time state champion from 1982-84. His older brother, Carter, was a four-time state champion, wrestling on Lisbon’s 2016 state runner-up team.

The Lions hear talk about which team is best and they receive daily reminders of the old standard that’s becoming a new expectation all over again. They want to extend the tradition established by Al Baxter’s teams in the 1970s and Smith’s earlier champs.

“They want to be the best,” Happel said. “We’re all motivated. You go into the room every day and look at the wall full of state champions from the 80s and 90s. There’s a lot of motivation to be like those guys you look up to.”

Happel earned his family’s fifth straight state title. He will move up to 120 this season. Smith said he has gotten even better, putting him well above the 1A competition. He dedicated a lot of time to freestyle and working with his club in the offseason.

“Do a lot of technique, trying to nail some more things, working on some more shots, positioning and handfighting,” Happel said. “Try to improve my offense.”

Happel is one of a few second-generation wrestlers that Smith has coached in his 2013 return from a brief retirement after 21 seasons at Iowa City High. Fathers of senior state medalist Kaden Kilburg and freshmen Cole Clark, who is expected to start at 182, and upper weight Brant Baltes also wrestled for Smith. He plans to stick around for a few more.

“I am old,” Smith said with a laugh. “We have Happels, Kilburgs, Clarks (and Balteses). It’s fun.

“It keeps you going. I enjoy just being around the kids. I don’t see any way in the near future that I’m getting out.”

Many of those older wrestlers either help with the program or are mainstays at meets. Werderman said Lisbon will regularly overflow the small sections assigned to its crowd at tournaments. He said he’s seen more students attend duals over his four years. Smith said that is a sign the tradition is back and more are becoming involved.

“Every home meet is full of people from Lisbon,” Smith said. “The excitement is back and that’s the main thing.

“The kids like that because you get that support from the fans and it’s a cool deal.”

Smith could reach a personal milestone, if Lisbon can match last year’s finish. He has tied legendary coach Bob Siddens with a state record 11 traditional team titles. The Lions will try for Smith’s ninth at the school, but it won’t be easy.

“We’re definitely going to be a better team,” Smith said. “There is going to be tough competition in 1A this year. It is pretty stacked with Denver coming down and Don Bosco is always good. Missouri Valley has a good team coming back.

“We’re the team to beat but it depends on how our kids step up and how they improve during the season is going to make the difference. Everybody else can say the same thing. It will be interesting.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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