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DES MOINES— When Nadine McNeal was younger, a family vacation every year was coming to the state wrestling tournament.
The referee — in her 17th year — said her father would bring them each season during her middle and high school days. A deep love of wrestling was ingrained in her from an early age and it has never left.
She’s working the table at this year’s state wrestling tournament, but she received her first district (Starmont) and sectional (Dike-New Hartford) meets this year. It’s a point of pride for referees to be given postseason tournaments and McNeal jumped at the chance.
“I kept thinking they sent the email to the wrong person,” McNeal said. “But after you blow the first whistle you realize that it’s just a regular tournament.”
The hardest part, she says, is doing a good job. There’s a lot of pressure to continually make good calls and that can be challenging.
Add in coaches breathing down her neck and sometimes hostile crowds, it certainly starts to look like a difficult job.
“You have to do the right thing every time you do it,” McNeal said. “I usually go over the rulebook before every tournament and dual.”
Getting to this point, however, began a long while ago.
McNeal grew up with four sisters and says when she was younger that her dad didn’t want them to be cheerleaders. That’s not a shot at cheerleading, but it’s something her father wanted his daughters to avoid doing.
So, they became managers.
McNeal realized she wanted to stay around the sport and made the jump to refereeing. Her father remains an important supporter and actually came to watch her at both the sectional and district meets.
“It was neat to have him there,” McNeal said. “It meant I have at least one fan in the stands.”
467 TAKEDOWNS, AND COUNTING
When Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands beat Johnson’s Elliot Pohlmeyer with a 28-13 technical fall, he tallied 13 takedowns.
Yes, 13. The junior did it in just 3:07 of match time and put his total number of takedowns this season at 467.
“He goes out to score points,” Iowa City West head coach Mark Reiland said. “That’s a good mentality to have for wrestling.”
The defending state champion at 152 pounds, Brands — son of Iowa associate head wrestling coach Terry Brands — looks well on his way to winning another title, though the road does get tougher from here.
Brands gets Des Moines Roosevelt’s No. 10 ranked Shawn Brown next and could see Waverly-Shell Rock’s No. 3 Austin Yant in the semifinals.
CAEL, NOT CARTER
A year ago, Lisbon freshman Cael Happel watched his brother, Carter, win his fourth-straight state wrestling championship.
Now, it’s his turn. Happel defeated his first-round opponent — West Central Valley’s Quest Brown — with a pin in 2:36. At 50-3 on the season, Happel is certainly the favorite to win the title at 113 pounds.
“The only pressure I’m going to have is the pressure on myself,” Happel said. “Just gotta keep it under control.”
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