CEDAR RAPIDS — Blake Gioimo started wrestling in first grade.
He wanted to try something new and liked it immediately. Success wasn’t instant but occurred incrementally until high school, resulting in a district title in fifth grade and his first youth state medal the following year.
Cedar Rapids Prairie’s 106-pound sophomore qualified for the state tournament as a freshman and has his sights on a better finish. Just like the improvement he showed in those early years.
“I have really high hopes for state this year,” Gioimo said. “I plan on being a state finalist and I believe I can do it.”
Third-ranked Gioimo will begin his trek Saturday with the Class 3A district at Prairie. Wrestlers across Iowa in all classes will compete in districts with the top two individuals advancing to state Feb. 18-20 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Action begins at noon.
The 3A field at Prairie includes 19 ranked wrestlers from teams that include Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Clear Creek Amana, Linn-Mar and Marion.
Gioimo is 14-0 this season and has finally grown into the lowest weight class. Last season, he was just about 100 pounds and now isn’t giving up size or strength.
“I knew I needed to get a lot bigger,” said Gioimo, who was 21-18 last year. “In the offseason, I hit the weights real hard. I continued to wrestle in the offseason. I feel like that really prepared me.”
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Prairie Coach Kane Thompson said they had an objective after last year’s state meet. Devote time during the spring and summer to freestyle competition. The pandemic wiped out those plans. Gioimo dedicated his time to wrestling at DC Elite Club and lifting at Hard Drive Elite when they opened.
“It got pushed to the side but he kept training,” Thompson said. “We were able to have workouts this year but he was still able to get his work in. We really noticed it in the practice room.
“He’s a lighthearted guy and a fun guy to be around with a smile always on his face. The big change was when it was time to train or drill he was all focus.”
Gioimo has dominated opponents, recording eight pins and four technical falls. His only matches to go the distance are two decisions over Waverly-Shell Rock’s Zane Behrends. One of the technical falls came against a foe that he split with last season.
In addition to getting bigger and better, the offseason work helped him make strides on his feet. Takedowns have complemented his strength on top.
“I really knew I had to work on it in the offseason,” Gioimo said. “I know I need to get on top so I had to get better at my feet. I worked on a lot of different setups and shots to see what really fit me.”
Thompson echoed Gioimo’s point.
“Sometimes last year we had to choose top to get there,” Thompson said. “This year, we know we’re going to get on top because he’s really developed his neutral position and scoring. His defense has gotten better on his feet. We feel good that he is going to get that takedown so he puts himself on top instead of choosing it at times.”
The Hawks weren’t able to compete until Jan. 2. Despite just 14 matches, Gioimo said he is ready to peak over the next week. He is ready to soothe the sting of last year’s state appearance that didn’t produce a victory. Gioimo won’t be satisfied with qualifying.
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“That really did not set well with me,” Gioimo said. “It pushed me this offseason. I’m not going to let that happen again.”
Iowa City West also will host a 3A district. The Trojans will compete with Iowa City High, Iowa City Liberty, Burlington, Fort Madison, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa and Pella.
Western Dubuque will travel to Waverly for a 3A district with Cedar Falls, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Mason City, Waterloo East, Waterloo West and top-ranked Waverly-Shell Rock.
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