Cedar Rapids Xavier wrestlers have experienced individual success in the past.
This season, however, the Saints have enjoyed sharing wins as a team. They have been rewarded with a program first.
Xavier will make its debut in the Class 3A regional duals Wednesday night at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. The 19th-ranked Saints open with No. 18 Cedar Rapids Prairie in the semifinals. The winner advances to the final against the top-ranked Go-Hawks.
“I think it’s pretty cool to be part of the first team to ever do that,” Xavier junior Christian Stanek said. “It’s never been done in Xavier history. I think it’s just really cool and special for us as a team. We’re excited to have the opportunity.”
Hard work has propelled the Saints. They have strong chemistry, but that friendship is paused as they battle during practice, attempting to push each other. Xavier has reaped the rewards.
“It means a lot to all the individuals on the team,” Saints 170-pounder Ivan Thomas said. “This year, we came together. From the beginning of the year until now, we’ve grown so much as a team and that really has brought us to the regional duals.”
Xavier is 15-8 with seven losses coming to ranked dual teams, including top-10 foes Dubuque Hempstead and Linn-Mar. It won the program’s first tournament title, capturing the team crown at Maquoketa’s Zimmerman Invitational.
As the season progressed, others started to take notice.
“The atmosphere in our room has been awesome all year,” Xavier Coach Ryan Chambers said. “The last couple weeks they started to see the things they were doing is being recognized. People are noticing.
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“They start to walk with a little bit of a different swagger. It’s cool to see them take it all in and their hard work is starting to pay off.”
Chambers recognized some potential, but when the pandemic prevented them from opening the wrestling room or attending camps he had some doubt. He watched as the wrestlers responded and continued to make strides.
“These guys really stepped up and changed everything,” Chambers said. “The leadership in our room is like it’s never been before. It is nice to see these kids are being rewarded for what they’ve achieved.”
Xavier is led by a quartet of ranked wrestlers. Stanek has climbed to second at 145 and Thomas (170) is fourth. Caelen Shannon and Ryan Volk are ranked eighth at 160 and 182, respectively. Stanek and Shannon are each 32-0. Thomas is unbeaten in 30 matches and Volk is 27-4.
The key has been avoiding multiple forfeits and giving away points before the start.
“We have solid people at every weight,” Stanek said. “This year we’re filling the weight classes. Everyone is getting better and it allows us to win duals.”
The ranked foursome has provided a boost. They have combined for 76 pins with Volk leading the way with 21, which is one more than Stanek and two ahead of Thomas.
“We encourage each other to go out there and get six points every time,” Stanek said. “Just finish it with a pin.”
They expect a close and winnable dual against Prairie, a traditional power. If they are able to advance, a mammoth challenge awaits in the Go-Hawks. The opponents don’t matter. The Saints are going to soak in this experience and attempt to keep building for the future.
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“The fact that we’re here is monumental for the program,” Chambers said. “I wouldn’t care who they put in front of us. We’re honored to wrestle Prairie and have the chance to compete again.”
Linn-Mar (7-1) will attempt to earn its first state duals berth since 2014 and sixth overall. The eighth-ranked Lions face the winner between No. 10 Dubuque Hempstead and No. 24 Pella at home.
Iowa City West heads to a regional dual at Eldridge. The 11th-ranked Trojans wrestle No. 22 Pleasant Valley in the first round. The winner advances to the final against No. 6 North Scott.
Western Dubuque has reached the state duals twice since 2017. The Bobcats are looking for their fourth state suals appearance. Western Dubuque, ranked 15th, takes on No. 12 Cedar Falls. The winner has No. 5 Bettendorf in the final.
The state duals tournament is Feb. 17 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
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