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DES MOINES — From third-string freshman to third in the state rankings, Bradan Birt’s wrestling career has come a long way.
Western Dubuque’s senior 132-pound took it another step further with a shot at the top step on the state podium.
Birt scored seven points in the opening period and held on for a 10-8 victory over Cedar Rapids Prairie’s No. 5 Trenten Wennermark in the semifinals of the Class 3A state wrestling tournament Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. Western Dubuque set a school record with three finalists, including defending state champion Max Lyon at 182 and heavyweight Aaron Costello, and climbed to fourth in the team standings with 81 points.
“Amazing,” Birt said. “There’s no better feeling that I’ve ever felt.”
“I was ranked third all year so people were definitely overlooking me to be top two, but Max and Aaron are obviously No. 1, so they’re expected to make it. I’m just happy I’m with them.”
Western Dubuque coach Paul Cleary said Birt didn’t start wrestling until his first high school season, dabbling in the sport for about six weeks as a seventh-grader. Strangely, Birt comes from a wrestling family. His father, Ryan was an NCAA Division III champion at Upper Iowa University and is the current head coach at Millikin (Ill.) University. His brother, Stephan, was a state finalist in Illinois, but it was the 2014 2A 106-pound state title his brother, Tristan, won for Dubuque Wahlert that inspired him to match their accomplishments.
“He saw his brother win a state title,” Cleary said. “He got into it and had trained his tail off. Hard work pays off in life and all of these guys down here showing that off.”
Birt (47-3) was able to rack up seven nearfall points to advance to the championship against Southeast Polk’s top-ranked Cade DeVos (45-2).
Wennermark scored the opening takedown, but Birt answered with a reversal. He scored two turns for five nearfall and a 7-2 lead after the first. It was two late nearfall points that put him up five in the third that helped him advance.
“As soon as I got the cradle in and they weren’t calling a stalemate I just kept going with it and he went over to his back,” Birt said. “I heard the two and just knew it was over right then.”
Lyon (51-0) was preparing for his match when an excited Birt returned to their camp. Lyon, a four-time state medalist, received a jolt to make his third straight final and vie for a second state crown.
“We ride off each other,” Lyon said. “Feed off the positive energy. It’s great.”
Lyon spent little time on the mat the first two rounds, getting two pins in less than a minute each. He went the entire six minutes, handling Burlington’s third-ranked Spencer Sherwood, 11-0.
Lyon led just 2-0 after one, but broke it open in the third with six points from a takedown and two turns.
“It was hard for me to get stuff going at first,” Lyon said. “I had to get a little creative. It’s fun like that.”
Last season, he was joined in the finals by Costello. He said the finals experience is better when he can share it with teammates.
“Two is pretty cool,” Lyon said. “I bet three is one better.”
Costello (52-0) earned a second straight trip to the championship. Costello built a 10-1 lead before pinning Oskaloosa’s No. 6 Callan Tomlin in 5:34.
“It means a lot, returning to the finals,” said Costello, who signed with the University of Iowa. “I didn’t get what I wanted to get done last year. This year is going to be different.”
Like Lyon, Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands will get a crack at a second straight title. Brands captured the 138-pound title last season. The top-ranked junior will look to add the 152 championship to his collection.
Brands edged Waverly-Shell Rock’s third-ranked Austin Yant, fending off a last-second takedown attempt from his hip for an 8-6 semifinal victory. Brands said he was upset in the final period as Yant pressed to try tie the score.
“I wasn’t wrestling how I needed to wrestle at all,” Brands said. “Still got the job done, but I’m not happy at all. I’ve got to be ready for the finals.”
Brands (53-1) scored all the takedowns he needed early in the match, including the opening score. He advances to face Fort Dodge’s No. 2 Cayd Lara (47-2).
“The finals is what matters in the end,” Brands said. “Like I said, I’m not happy with how I wrestled at all. I’ll be ready to go in the finals.”
Lara advanced with a second-period fall over Marion’s Colin Conway in the other 152 semifinal.
Cedar Rapids Prairie placed two in the semifinals. At 106, third-ranked Conrad Braswell dropped a 10-5 decision to Mason City’s top-ranked Cullan Schriever.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Ben Sarasin wasn’t able to avenge his only previous loss. Top-ranked Marcus Coleman, of Ames, handed Sarasin an 8-0 defeat, giving him a shot at a third state title.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson Matt Culver made the 160-pound semifinals in his first state appearance. Culver drew first blood with a second-period escape but fell to Lewis Central’s second-ranked Mac Southard, 3-2. West’s Carter Rohweder also reached the 160 semifinals, but lost to West Des Moines Valley’s No. 1 Joel Shapiro, 7-0.
Iowa City High’s Jacob Dykes earned a top-six finish, making the 195 semifinals. He suffered his first loss of the season, falling to Mason City’s Isaac Bartel, 3-1.
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