DES MOINES — Jacob Wempen’s prep wrestling career was a long and windy road.
The first two years were filled with twists and turns that didn’t lead here. A year ago he was stopped by an unavoidable roadblock in the form of a state champion opponent.
The Linn-Mar senior kept driving and that road finally led to the stop of the awards stand at Wells Fargo Arena.
Top-ranked Wempen pinned Western Dubuque’s No. 2 Devin Ludwig in 1:07 to win the 182-pound state title Saturday night at the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state wrestling tournament. He claimed Linn-Mar’s 13th individual state title.
“It’s a lot of emotions,” Wempen said. “I’ve been working for this my whole life. It finally came true.”
The feat eluded him early, placing behind three eventual state medalists, including a state finalist, and four ranked wrestlers in loaded districts. Last year, he fell short of his goal placing fifth, falling to the eventual state champion in the semifinal.
“I think confidence and a hell of a lot of hard work,” Wempen said. “I think falling short and not even making it here was probably the biggest motivator to get me here.”
Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher said Wempen’s journey applies more to wrestling. He noted that Wempen has trained for more than two years for this moment. Coaches urged him to keep putting in the work, even though it wasn’t yielding the desired results.
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“This year he stayed the course,” Streicher said. “It takes a lot to go through all those years and keep staying the course, keep working hard, keep pounding away. It’s a good life lesson for him. That is how he’s going to succeed. It is how you succeed in life. It all paid off for him. It’s awesome.”
Wempen (37-1) dominated his way through the bracket. He opened with a technical fall and a pin. Wempen scored two takedowns with the second leading to Ludwig’s back and the quick fall.
“My goal was to come in this tournament, dominate and leave no doubt,” Wempen said. “I feel like I did that this tournament.”
Wempen was visibly emotional as he celebrated in the center of the mat. He promptly left the mat and jumped into the stands where he embraced his family and then took a big swig of pop.
“My family has been so important in this,” Wempen said. “They’ve done so much more than I could ever ask for. I’m so thankful for it.
“I love Mountain Dew. So, why not?”
Wempen was one of two Linn-Mar medalists. The Lions’ Tanner Schultz was seventh at 220.
Ludwig (35-3) joined teammates Elijah Demmer (eighth at 152), Ryker Kurimski (third at 160) and Jake Hosch (sixth at 170) on the awards stand.
Iowa City West freshman Hunter Garvin reached the 120-pound final in his first appearance, facing Fort Dodge’s No. 5 Carson Taylor. Garvin (39-4) fell into an uncharacteristic five-point deficit in the third and stormed back within one late. Taylor scored a takedown and caught three nearfall for a 13-8 victory.
“You have to give credit to Taylor,” West coach Nate Moore said. “He went out there and wrestled for six minutes and that’s been the biggest part of our team. We have to put together six solid minutes of wrestling physically and mentally. If you can’t do that you’re not going to win those tough matches.”
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Moore was a four-time state finalist and two-time champ for West. Garvin has to go right back to work and keep striving to improve.
“He has to keep chugging along, get back on the mat and do the things he’s been doing all year,” Moore said. “Another year of it the outcome may be different.”
Garvin was one of five West medalists. Teammates Will Hoeft (170) and Landon Green at 220 both placed sixth. Grant O’Dell (106) and 138-pounder Graham Gambrall were eighth for the Trojans.
Cedar Rapids Prairie tied for ninth with three medalists. Austin Kegley (113) and Ashton Stoner-DeGroot (195) each placed third. Conrad Braswell was sixth at 132 for Prairie.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Cade Parker and Josh Vis reached the podium. Vis placed third at heavyweight, improving four spots from last year. Parker was fourth at 195.
Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Christian Stanek placed eighth at 132 pounds. Stanek became the school’s first freshman state medalist.
Iowa City High’s Ethan Wood-Finley was fifth at 106, while heavyweight Jacob Murry was seventh. Iowa City Liberty’s Ashton Barker won by fall in his last match, placing third at 170.
Waverly-Shell Rock won its sixth team a title with nine medalists and 157 points. Southeast Polk was second at 123.
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