SPORTS

Prairie wins third-straight MVC crown

West's Brands OW, topping three ranked foes

Cedar Rapids Prairie’ (left) Marcus England takes control of Cedar Rapids Xavier’s (right) Jeff Vipond during the 106-weight class championship bout at the Mississippi Valley Conference Saturday, January 31, 2015 at Dubuque Wahlert Catholic High School. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Prairie’ (left) Marcus England takes control of Cedar Rapids Xavier’s (right) Jeff Vipond during the 106-weight class championship bout at the Mississippi Valley Conference Saturday, January 31, 2015 at Dubuque Wahlert Catholic High School. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
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DUBUQUE — The numerous championship banners adorning the fall wall of Cedar Rapids Prairie’s gymnasium represents the successful wrestling tradition.

Prairie Coach Blake Williams encouraged this year’s team to make its contribution, reminding them of the feat whenever they return.

The Hawks will have a few stories to tell later, winning their third straight Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet title Saturday at Dubuque Wahlert. Prairie captured its fifth overall conference tournament crown, recording 217 ½ points to beat runner-up Cedar Rapids Jefferson by nine to become only the third program to win three in a row.

“That is something they can always come back to the school and say they were a part of,” Williams said. “It’s a big deal to them and me.”

Prairie closed strong, taking an 11 1/2 — point lead into the final round by winning three of its last four semifinal matches. The Hawks went 7-6 in the final round, amassing 8 ½ bonus points.

Williams said most wrestlers finished at or above their seeds in a balanced effort. The Hawks had 13 of 14 wrestlers place seventh or better, including a tournament-best six finalists.

“I’m super proud of the kids,” Williams said. “There may have been some people that didn’t think this group could do what the two previous did, but I think the kids rose to the challenge.”

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Prairie senior Josh Wenger has been a key part of all three championship teams. The Hawks have found a way to reload the lineup to keep the winning stretch intact.

“It’s big,” Wenger said. “It’s pretty cool to experience that three years in a row.

“You realize how we just keep filling in and filling in, guy after guy.”

Wenger (138) and 106-pounder Marcus England earned individual titles. Wenger made his fourth straight finals appearance, claiming his second gold medal. Second-ranked Wenger pinned Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Ben Sarasin in 3:55.

“It’s a good feeling, coming into the last couple weeks,” Wenger said. “I just have to peak at the right time. I have to keep battling.”

Wenger (37-1) is looking to improve three consecutive fourth-place finishes at state. He is confident and ready for the final push.

“It’s the last go-round,” Wenger said. “I just have to go for it all.”

As top seeds reigned most of the day, Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands prevented a sweep. Brands, the only champ not seeded first, came in sixth at 126. He knocked off three ranked wrestlers, including a 12-7 win over Prairie’s No. 6 Sam Uthoff in the finals.

“Something clicked this last week and started working hard in the practice room,” Brands said. “The coaches started helping me and getting ready for districts and state.”

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Brands received the Outstanding Wrestler award from the MVC coaches. He was visibly excited after the match.

“I just felt like I switched it up,” Brands said. “I was ready to go.”

Brands pancaked Uthoff for a 5-0 advantage, allowing him to settle back and wrestle his style. He also scored a reversal with one tick left on the clock in the second, increasing his lead to 8-5. Brands had an edge in scoring in the final period.

“He wrestled in control,” West Coach Mark Reiland said. “It wasn’t like he gave the five points back or shut down and tried to hold on. He was still scoring points and when you can do that you are going to win matches, tight and big matches.”

Brands (32-12) opened with a 5-1 win over Dubuque Hempstead’s No. 8 Nate Feldman and beat Cedar Rapids Xavier’s seventh-ranked Josh Gerke, 7-5, in the semifinals.

“It’s a matter of always knowing he’s capable, but actually getting the job done,” Reiland said. “For the first time, he had three pretty good wins.

“It’s a pretty good day.”

West led the field with four titlists, twice as many as Prairie, Jefferson and Linn-Mar. Tanner Rohweder (120), John Milani (170) and 195-pounder Donovan Doyle also won titles for the Trojans.

The J-Hawks just missed winning its first conference tournament title since the inaugural super meet in 1993. Jefferson had four in the finals and champions in Brenden Baker (113) and heavyweight Dalton Kuehl.

Overall, I was happy with our performance in terms of effort, staying in there and battling,” Briggs said. “Obviously, we wanted to win the darn thing and have a couple more champions.

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“It’s a springboard, hopefully, into regional duals, districts, state duals and state.”

Baker beat Dubuque Wahlert’s defending Class 2A state champion Tristan Birt, 8-6. He jumped to an early lead, notching three quick takedowns.

“He took Birt out of it,” Briggs said. “He kind of let him back into it, but that really set the tone and took the wind out of his sails.”

Kuehl won his first MVC gold medal, dropping West’s Blake Moser, 3-0.

“He’s coming on at the right time, for sure,” Briggs said. “I’m really excited to see him wrestle in the tournament series.”

Toby Northrup and Shea Hartzler won consecutive titles for the Lions. Northrup outlasted Jefferson’s Tavian Rashed for an 11-9 victory at 152.

Hartzler beat Wahlert’s Andrew Turner, 7-5, at 160. Hartzler improved last year’s third-place finish at the MVC meet, showing his hard-nosed style on the mat.

“He wrestles physical and tough,” Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher said. “He’s going to be hard to beat down the stretch.”

Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Clint Lembeck (132) and Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Logen Rodriguez (145) won crowns.

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Lembeck broke open a close match with Jefferson’s Kyle Briggs, scoring a reversal and takedown in the third for a 10-7 win. Rodriguez notched a takedown with 45 seconds left in the match and defeated Ali Al-Mabuk, 4-3.

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

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