Prep Wrestling

How West Delaware wrestling developed team culture key to state duals success

'We're fighting for people in the stands that have watched for years and years'

West Delaware's Wyatt Voelker  celebrates his win over Davenport Assumption's Aiden Morgan during the 2020 state duals t
West Delaware's Wyatt Voelker celebrates his win over Davenport Assumption's Aiden Morgan during the 2020 state duals tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Wrestling is considered an individual sport.

Within the walls of West Delaware’s wrestling room, however, a different attitude prevails. Team means something important to the Hawks.

Words like “family” and “brotherhood” are a way of life. Not buzz words or coach speak. It is genuine. They train, battle and compete as one, pooling their blood, sweat and tears to drown opponents.

They are motivated by something greater than their personal achievements. They wrestle for each other and for the program.

“It’s bigger than us,” Hawks 195-pounder Wyatt Voelker said. “Our wrestling is a lot bigger than we are. It’s West Delaware wrestling. We’re fighting for people in the stands that have watched for years and years.

“The black and orange, the name on the singlet, the tradition, all the wrestlers and coaches. It’s for all of them.”

This philosophy is why they treasure the state duals tournament. The top-ranked Hawks will line up shoulder-to-shoulder for introductions for a chance to capture their third consecutive Class 2A title Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. West Delaware opens with Sergeant Bluff-Luton at 9 a.m.

If West Delaware can complete the three-peat, it will become just the fifth program in state history to win at least three straight, joining West Des Moines Dowling (1987-92), Don Bosco (2005-10), Waverly-Shell Rock (2008-10) and Davenport Assumption (2011-14).

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“Every member of our team has made each other better,” West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said. “All year, they’ve practiced hard together. They competed for each other.

“It takes the whole team to get to the state duals and compete at it. Five or six guys can win the traditional tournament. To me, this is the ultimate team championship and that’s why it’s pretty special.”

Bonds were formed as early as kindergarten and first grade when the upperclassmen began wrestling together. They packed in cars, vans and SUVs to travel to tournaments.

They also had the chance to grow closer during the offseason camps, clinics and excursions the coaches arranged. Sometimes those experiences were as memorable and unifying as anything in season.

Consider the trip to Colorado. They climbed a mountain and trained at the Air Force Academy that summer. Accommodations tested their resolve in the middle of a heat wave.

“Coach Voss is old school and we stayed in tents in 100-degree weather,” Voelker said with a laugh. “It was hot as (heck). You’re not going to get much closer than sleeping right next to a guy in a tent. That’s what all of us did who are all on the same team now.”

Jadyn Peyton and Voelker both recalled the Wilderness Camps in third and fourth grade. Mats were rolled out on grass near the woods. They would wrestle and watch high school wrestlers demonstrate technique. The wrestlers would hike, fish and even do some archery.

One year, thunderstorms and a tornado swept through the area, forcing everyone to head to the high school wrestling room for overnight shelter.

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“There are some pretty unforgettable memories there,” Peyton said with a laugh. “Whether it is 90 degrees and raccoons are scratching at your tent or it is raining and thunderstorming and you wonder if you’re going to be alive the next morning. Definitely some memories. You go through it all.”

It certainly has fortified the relationships among the 44 wrestlers on the team, causing them to explode when they watch a senior reserve pin a top-ranked foe or a freshman’s wrestleback victory for a state berth. They revel in each other’s highs and support through the lows.

“It all goes back to the team aspect,” Peyton said. “We’re all in this together. You’re just as excited to see other people succeed as you are for your own success. We all live by that in the West Delaware wrestling room.”

The impact has been seen on the mat. The classes have responded to the high expectations.

West Delaware has become of the most dominant programs in any class. The Hawks are 16-0 this season, averaging 64 points per dual and winning by an average margin of about 54 points.

The lineup consists of 10 ranked wrestlers, including seven ranked in the eight heaviest weights. The upper weights have wreaked havoc on opponents, including top-ranked trio Jared Voss at 170, Voelker and heavyweight Carson Petlon.

Cael Meyer is fourth at 182, Peyton (152) is fifth and 220-pounder Christian Nunley is sixth. Peyton’s younger brother, Logan, is seventh at 145. The close-knit group feeds off one another.

“When you see that other kid succeed, you know they are doing the same thing in the room that you are,” Peyton said. “It’s like I can do anything because this kid just did it. Let’s go and give it my all and see what happens.”

The Hawks haven’t lost to a 2A opponent since the 2018 state duals, falling to New Hampton/Turkey Valley, 46-24, in the semifinals. They finished third that season and have posted 46 straight victories against teams in their division.

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“We’ve had some really, really good teams the last two years,” Voss said. “I just know we have a solid kid at every spot in the lineup. When you have solid kids and some hammers on top of that you’re going to win a lot of dual meets.”

Peyton declined to discuss the idea of a third straight title, while Voelker noted the need for the team to wrestle at its full potential. Voss said the team isn’t caught up with the past, insisting it isn’t defending anything but just one of eight teams vying for one this year.

“We know we have to count on each other to make that happen,” Voss said. “They’re buying into it. They are just as concerned about making their partner or teammates better as they are themselves.

“We have not talked about last year one single day in practice and I told the kids in practice we aren’t going to, because it’s in the past. Instead of worrying about that, we have to get ourselves better.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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