WILLIAMSBURG — Williamsburg wrestling coach Grant Eckenrod may not have expected a chance to return to the state duals tournament.
Last season, he guided a veteran team to a fourth-place finish and won his 500th career dual in the state quarterfinals at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. This season came with a lot of uncertainty, losing 12 seniors from a year ago to graduation and allowing 50 points to Solon in the season opener.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if we’d win a dual meet the whole year,” Eckenrod said. “These kids have absolutely responded. We are still young and inexperienced and pretty inconsistent, but they’ve hung in there. We’ve won 21 duals, so I’m proud of them for that.”
Williamsburg earned the chance to host Class 2A regional duals Tuesday. The 11th-ranked Raiders face No. 16 Van Meter/Earlham in the semifinal round, starting at 6 p.m. The winner advances to the final immediately afterward, taking on the winner between fourth-ranked Davenport Assumption and No. 45 Creston-OM for a berth to the state duals tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The Raiders are 21-4 with losses to top-ranked West Delaware, No. 2 Solon and Class 3A No. 8 Western Dubuque. Van Meter/Earlham (16-0) will be a tough test with five ranked wrestlers.
“We’ve got our hands full,” said Eckenrod, who has 521 career dual victories, moving into third on the state’s all-time list. “They’re a good wrestling team. Looking at the matchups, it’s going to be an absolute dogfight.”
Eckenrod said the Raiders have demonstrated perseverance and determination. They have taken their lumps and have come back for more, wanting to get better.
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“They are kids who are just hanging in there,” Eckenrod said. “They are kids getting their first shot. They have been JV for a long time or a couple freshmen. They don’t have a lot of experience at that level. Wrestling JV or junior high is not the same. When these kids got their opportunity, they’ve stepped it up.”
Don’t be mistaken. Williamsburg has its share of talent. The Raiders advanced seven to the district meet and have 12 wrestlers with winning records. Jalen Schropp (33-2 at 132) and Garrett Jensen (35-6 at 145) help lead the way.
Schropp is ranked third and has been a solid leader by example, impacting teammates who see how he handles business.
“He’s not a real rah-rah guy,” Eckenrod said of Schropp. “He is a kid that when he takes the mat he has the heart of a lion. Kids see that and they know.”
If the Raiders can clear the first hurdle, the reward would likely be a dual against Assumption.
“Assumption is loaded again, especially up top and a couple down low,” Eckenrod said. “I know our kids will battle and fight and that’s all you can ask of them.”
The Wamac is well-represented in the regional dual field. West Delaware and Solon host duals. The Hawks face No. 30 Washington (Iowa) in the semifinals. No. 15 West Liberty and No. 23 Camanche are also at Manchester.
Solon wrestles Gilbert first. The other semifinal pits No. 18 Eddyville EBF against No. 31 Ballard.
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In 1A, MFL MarMac is one of just two top-eight ranked teams that aren’t hosting a regional dual. The eighth-ranked Bulldogs were rewarded with a 2 1/2-hour trip to Lake Mills. MFL MarMac opens with No. 28 Nashua-Plainfield in the semifinals.
“First things first,” MFL MarMac Coach Chet Bachman said. “We have to wrestle a Nashua-Plainfield team that is coached by Al Frost and I have a ton of respect for Al. He always gets his kids up.”
MFL MarMac is looking for its first state duals appearance. The Bulldogs could earn a rematch with No. 4 Lake Mills, which overcame a 27-3 deficit to win the regular-season meeting. Bachman said both teams could reverses some results from that first dual, if they wrestle again.
“You have to get everybody to believe it and everybody has got to want it,” said Bachman, whose .841 winning percentage is first among active coaches. “It has to be every link. It has to be like a chain.
“It’s a good situation and good for our program. It’s been fun coaching a lot of these kids throughout the years. We’re just going to go up there, give it our best shot and see what happens.”
Lisbon is the lone Gazette-area 1A host. The third-ranked Lions open with New London. The winner will have No. 24 Wilton or No. 48 Maquoketa Valley.
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