SOLON — Solon Coach Blake Williams wasn’t sure what the Spartans would do as an encore, following last year’s traditional state team title and runner-up finish at State Duals.
The Spartans graduated seven starters, who combined for more than 1,000 career victories. Six of those seniors had traditional state meet experience, so Solon faced some big holes in nearly half its lineup.
Solon managed to fill those gaps for another strong campaign, winning a sectional title Saturday and returning to the Class 2A regional duals.
The eighth-ranked Spartans (18-5) will face Independence Tuesday night in the regional semifinal with the winner taking on seventh-ranked West Liberty (25-3) or Columbus in the final for a berth to the State Duals tournament Feb. 14 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
I think they’ve even surprised us a little bit,” Williams said. “Half your lineup is new and you’re really not sure what to expect.
“It’s been kind of a nice blend of three seniors that have been through it (and) new guys, who bought in and fed off what we did last year.”
Seniors Christian Haight (132), Zach Wegmann at 220 and Tyler Linderbaum have combined for 97 wins, including a 30-0 mark from third-ranked heavyweight. The entire team has 11 wrestlers with winning records and at least 25 victories. Seven have at least 30 wins, including 120-pounder Zeb Gnida (36-9) and Mike Hoyle (37-7) at 182.
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The Spartans advanced 11 to Saturday’s district and may have wanted to prove the doubters wrong.
“I think may they’ve heard a lot or have a chip on their shoulder because a lot of people thought we wouldn’t be very good this year,” Williams said. “I think maybe that has motivated them a little bit to perform at the best of their ability.”
Solon has not wrestled the Mustangs or the Comets. Williams said the goal is to have wrestlers peak mentally and physically for this time of year.
“Doyle always has his team ready and they have steadily improved throughout the season,” Williams said. “It will be a fun and close dual with them.
“We have our work cut out for us but I think a lot of people didn’t even put us in this position. I think the guys believed it and had a goal — try to get back to the State Duals. It is within reach and now we have to go out and perform.”
Solon and Independence are among eight Wamac teams in regional duals. Dyersville Beckman, Mount Vernon, South Tama, West Delaware and Williamsburg are also in the 2A field. Western Dubuque will be in 3A competition Wednesday.
Beckman has had a banner season, earning a regional dual berth with a district title at Anamosa. The Blazers advanced eight to districts and are in the regional duals for the first time since 2001.
“It was one of our big goals throughout the year,” eighth-ranked 145-pound senior Jake Recker said. “One of our goals was to get better and be able to make it to regional duals.”
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Beckman wrestles ninth-ranked Washington (Iowa) in a regional semifinal at Davenport Assumption. The host Knights open with Mount Vernon. The Blazers are 18-7, setting a school record for dual victories.
Beckman Coach Taylor Hotek is optimistic if the Blazers wrestle to their potential.
“The whole month we talked about getting better every match and pretty much every practice,” Hotek said. “The end goal was to win sectional and keep our team alive until Tuesday and hopefully further.”
In Class 1A, defending state champion and second-ranked Lisbon faces New London in the semifinals and also host No. 11 Wilton and No. 25 Pekin.
Eighth-ranked South Winneshiek heads to Lake Mills to wrestle No. 20 Eagle Grove. The winner takes on either No. 5 Lake Mills or North Butler/Clarksville.
East Buchanan will travel to Denver to face the No. 3 Cyclones in a regional with Maquoketa Valley and ninth-ranked Wapsie Valley.
Top-ranked Don Bosco will wrestle Highland. The winner has the winner of Sigourney-Keota and Cascade.
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