Pupil to peer: Cory Connell and mentor Brad Smith lead teams to State Duals in same year

Connell wrestled for Smith at City High, returned to take over after Smith's brief retirement

Lisbon head coach Brad Smith (right) encourages Logan O’Connor (not pictured) as he wrestles Denver’s Trevor Dorn (not pictured) in their 220-pound bout during the Class 1A semifinal dual at the state duals team wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. O’Connor won by decision, 2-1. Denver won the match 38-35. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Lisbon head coach Brad Smith (right) encourages Logan O’Connor (not pictured) as he wrestles Denver’s Trevor Dorn (not pictured) in their 220-pound bout during the Class 1A semifinal dual at the state duals team wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. O’Connor won by decision, 2-1. Denver won the match 38-35. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — The next time Brad Smith and Cory Connell hit the golf course for their annual round they will have something else to discuss.

In between Smith’s straight and safe tee shots with a 5-iron and Connell’s longer drives, they can reflect on how their relationship has changed from Connell wrestling for Smith to both coaching teams at the Iowa High School Athletic Association State Duals wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.

Connell won the Class 3A 130-pound state title in 2000 under Smith at City High. Smith, who coached City High for 21 seasons before retiring and returning for his second stint as Lisbon head coach, made a big impact on his eventual replacement in 2012.

“In high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Connell said. “I am a lot of who I am today because of Brad Smith,” Connell said. “He is a man I respect more than just about anybody else. I’m teaching and coaching today because of how he influenced my life. I could not thank that man enough.”

Connell said Smith’s passion for wrestling affected his decision to enter into a career in education and coaching. The fervor he mirrored led Smith to believe Connell had the potential to be successful.

“I know he had a passion for wrestling all through high school,” Smith said. “He got better and better every year as a competitor. I knew if he would go on to coach and be an educator that he would do a great job.”

Smith actually called Connell to let him know of his retirement and that the position would be available. He encouraged Connell to update and submit his resume.

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“Obviously, that was a job that I always dreamed about having,” Connell said. “To have him call and give me his vote of support meant a lot.”

The pair have led teams to the State Duals in the past. Smith has made 17 appearances, including eight at City High. He has led Lisbon to four straight Duals trips.

Connell guided Eddyville-Blakesburg to its first State Duals appearance in 2010 and brought City High back for the first time since Smith led them in 2006. This is the first time they have qualified at the same time as head coaches.

Pupil is now a peer, of sorts.

“It’s awesome,” Smith said. “It’s a privilege getting here and he got them here.”

After Lisbon’s 55-12 1A quarterfinal win over Woodbury Central, he made his way into the stands and watched the Little Hawks wrestle North Scott in the consolation round. He watched it with Connell’s father.

“I still support City High. I’m excited he has done a good job there. He’s a great fit.”

Connell appreciates being around Smith, whether it’s on the links or at the state tournament. As for that golf game, they agreed Connell has the advantage on the links.

“Right now, he’s the better golfer,” Smith said with a laugh. “I’m going to work on that though.”

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Connell added, “I don’t know if he’s ever gotten the better of me. I just love playing with him. I love spending time with him, picking his brain. I love being around that guy.”

Nelson Brands hunts for 3rd title

Iowa City West senior Nelson Brands will attempt to cap his wrestling career with a third state title. He won the 152-pound title last season and claimed the 138-pound crown in 2016.

The top-ranked 160-pounder is 51-1 this season and wrestles Glenwood’s Brett Mower (36-13) in the opening round of the Class 3A tournament.

Brands is looking to become the second West wrestler to win at least three state titles, joining four-time state champ Nick Moore (2007-10).

Brands enters the state meet with a career mark of 194-20.

Possible 4-timers

Fort Dodge’s Brody Teske and Underwood’s Alex Thomsen have a chance to join the elite class of 25 four-time state champions. They have each won three titles.

Teske (35-1) is top-ranked at 126 in Class 3A, while Thomsen (47-1) is No. 1 at the same weight in 1A.

Both started the season unbeaten in prep competition. The pair split head-to-head matches, handing each other their only career losses entering the tournament.

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

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