Prep Wrestling

The Gazette's area wrestling Team of the Decade

Union's Max Thomsen, Lisbon's Brad Smith are the best of the 2010s

Union's Max Thomsen holds up three fingers after winning his third consecutive state title after defeating Clear Lake's
Union's Max Thomsen holds up three fingers after winning his third consecutive state title after defeating Clear Lake's Andres Gonzalez in the Class 2A championship 138-pound match at the 2014 Iowa High School Wrestling Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Saturday, February 22, 2014. Thomsen won 5-4. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
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Eastern Iowa remains fertile ground for prep wrestling talent. Each year the area churns out some of the best wrestlers, regardless of class.

Determining an all-decade team from The Gazette’s circulation area is no easy task. Two-time state titlists and four-time state medalists aren’t assured of a spot on the list of graduates, spanning from 2010 to 2019. As a staff, we agreed not to include anyone currently wrestling and the Class of 2020 has some exceptional talent.

I tried to limit one wrestler per weight class. With the change in weight classes between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, I stretched the rules to include a few who had wrestled at the old classes.

The decade was filled with three four-time state champions and six three-timers, including three who were four-time finalists.

Iowa City West’s Nick Moore (Class 3A), Union's Max Thomsen (2A) and Lisbon's Carter Happel (1A) are among Iowa’s 27 four-time state champions and none of them suffered more than one career loss.

Plenty of coaches continued Hall of Fame careers. Iowa City West’s Mark Reiland built a perennial power that was still strong in the first half of the decade. Brad Smith returned to Lisbon and energized the program from the wrestlers to its fan base. West Delaware’s Jeff Voss had the Hawks contending for 2A titles, winning a pair of traditional state titles and a duals crown. Kane Thompson elevated Alburnett to unprecedented heights before taking over Cedar Rapids Prairie. Blake Williams went back to Solon, leading the Spartans to their only traditional state tournament team title in the closest team race in history.

In addition to the weights and the rapid growth of girls' wrestling, the biggest change in prep wrestling surrounded the state duals. The Iowa High School Athletic Association moved the team event from the week after the traditional tournament in Cedar Rapids to the day before at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, making the traditional meet a three-day event again.

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Iowa City West (3A), Davenport Assumption (2A) and Logan Magnolia (1A) were the last State Duals champions in Cedar Rapids. Bettendorf (3A), Assumption (2A) and Nashua-Plainfield (1A) were the first champions in its current format.

Take a look at The Gazette’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.

103 POUNDS — Phil Laux, Iowa City West (2009-12)

Laux was a two-time state champion, winning 3A titles at 103 and 113. At one point he was the only prep to hand Thomsen and Bettendorf’s Fredy Stroker a loss. Laux placed third at 103 in Class 1A for Pekin as a sophomore. Laux started his college career at Wisconsin before ending his career with the Hawkeyes.

106 POUNDS — Brock Henderson, North Linn (2014-17)

Henderson was a two-time state champion and four-time medalist for the Lynx. He captured 1A titles at 113 and 120. He started his career with a fourth-place finish at 106 as a freshman and third as a sophomore. Henderson owns a 176-9 career mark. He currently wrestles for Coe.

112 — Christopher Halblom, Center Point-Urbana, Alburnett (2008-11)

Halblom was a hard-nosed and scrappy competitor. He reached the 2A finals as a freshman for Center Point-Urbana. He transferred to Alburnett the following season and closed with 1A titles at 112, 119 and 125. He also helped the Pirates to two top-three team finishes and a state duals appearance. Halblom ended his career with a 167-4 record.

113 — Brock Rathbun, Center Point-Urbana (2013-16)

Center Point-Urbana’s most successful wrestler, Rathbun was a four-time state finalist, winning 2A titles at 113, 120 and 126. He overcame a knee injury to win his final title, wrestling his senior season with diabetes as well. Rathbun went 185-3 in his career, owning the program’s record in victories. He set the school records for pins. Wrestled one year at Iowa. Transferred to Wartburg and won the 2018 133-pound NCAA Division III title as a freshman for the Knights.

119 — Tyler Shulista, Alburnett (2009-12)

Shulista teamed with Halblom to give the Pirates quite a 1-2 punch. The two practice partners pushed each other to new heights. Shulista won 1A titles at 112, 119 and 126. He finished his career with a 187-6 career record.

120 — Bryce West, Highland, Solon (2014-17)

Bryce and Drew West took Eastern Iowa by storm as freshmen. Interestingly, Bryce had to settle for third at 112 as a freshman, while Drew won the 1A 106 title. Bryce wound up with more gold, winning 1A titles at 120 for Highland as a sophomore and junior. The duo transferred to Solon their senior year and Bryce won the 120-pound title in 2A, helping the Spartans edge New Hampton by a half-point for the state traditional title. Bryce finished 210-3 with 134 pins. Drew wasn’t far behind with 208 wins and 130 pins. Both wrestle at Northern Illinois.

126 — Jack Hathaway, Iowa City West (2009-12)

Hathaway is one of only two wrestlers included that didn’t win multiple state titles. Hathaway never finished lower than third at state, winning the 3A 125-pound title as a junior in 2011. Two of his state losses came to Southeast Polk’s four-time state champion and Iowa NCAA titlist Cory Clark. Hathaway handed Clark his only high school loss. Hathaway was the second wrestler to reach 200 career victories. Known as a strong pinner, Hathaway ended his career with 137 falls. Hathaway was an NCAA qualifier for Oregon State.

132 — Carter Happel, Lisbon (2013-16)

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Lisbon’s Carter Happel was dominant as the 25th four-timer, claiming four 1A crowns from 120 to 145 and helping lead the Lions’ resurgence as a state power. Lisbon Coach Brad Smith said Happel was one of the best he has ever coached and his work ethic was unmatched. Happel posted a 209-1 career record with 131 career pins. His 172-match win streak is tied for third in state history. A Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler Award recipient and state tournament MVP, Happel was also an accomplished freestyle wrestler, winning Cadet national titles and earning Junior All-American honors. He competed in the 2014 World Championships as a U.S. Cadet World Team member. He currently wrestles for Iowa.

145 — Zach Witte, Cedar Rapids Prairie (2009-12)

Witte was the third Hawk to win two state titles and reached three state finals. He made his first finals appearance as a freshman and didn’t reach the state meet the next year, placing third at districts behind the eventual state finalists (Waverly Shell-Rock champ Cody Caldwell and Marshalltown’s runner-up Gustavo Martinez). He responded with 67 straight victories to close his career, winning 3A state titles at 145 and 152 pounds. Wrestled at Northern Iowa.

152 — Nick Moore, Iowa City West (2007-10)

Moore became the state’s 19th four-time state champ, winning Class 3A titles at four different weights that spanned from 130 to 160. He had a quiet disposition, but was one of the more complete wrestlers to come through the Trojans program. He was a key component in West’s state title sweep in 2007 and helped the team earn four combined runner-up finishes at state duals and traditional state meet. Moore was a four-time Mississippi Valley Conference champion. He posted a 183-1 career record, winning his last 151 matches. He also tallied 113 pins. Moore was an NCAA qualifier and Big Ten Conference finalist for Iowa.

160 — Nelson Brands, Iowa City West (2015-18)

Brands was raw at the start but developed into a takedown machine and one of the most dominant wrestlers in the area. He was a three-time state champion for the Trojans, claiming 3A crowns at 138, 152 and 160. Not only was he a four-time Mississippi Valley Conference champion but he is the only one to be named Outstanding Wrestler of the MVP Super Meet all four years. He completed his prep career with 198 victories, including 110 by pin. He wrestles for the University of Iowa.

170 — Ben Sarasin, Cedar Rapids Kennedy (2015-18)

Sarasin was a four-time state qualifier. He closed his career with a 3A 170-pound title, going 40-0 and finishing with 144 career wins. He also placed third and fourth. Sarasin was an NCAA Division I recruit but opted for the academics at University of Chicago. He was a D-III All-American at 174 as a freshman last season.

182 — Max Lyon, Western Dubuque (2014-17)

Unquestionably Western Dubuque’s best, Lyon was a four-time state medalist. He finished fourth as a freshman and reached the finals his last three seasons. Lyon was a runner-up as a sophomore and won back-to-back 3A titles at 182. The Bobcats’ first two-time state champion was technically sound, stingy and stronger than almost everyone he faced. Lyon posted a 187-8 career mark before stepping in as a starter for Purdue.

189 — Adam Reth, West Delaware (2010-13)

Reth was a powerful wrestler who was a pillar among West Delaware’s upper weights. He dominated opponents with his strength as a four-time state qualifier. He placed fourth at 189 as a sophomore and then won his final 95 prep matches, claiming titles at 195 and 220. Reth went 48-0 as a senior with 34 falls. He finished 158-23 with 92 career pins. Reth played football at UNI.

195 — Bryce Esmoil, West Liberty (2015-18)

Esmoil became West Liberty’s second two-time state champion, winning 2A titles at 195 pounds. He was a four-time state medalist, placing seventh as a freshman and third as a sophomore. Esmoil concluded his prep career with a 186-10 record and 116 pins, both West Liberty records. He continued his wrestling career with UNI.

220 — Ryan Parmely, Maquoketa Valley (2012-15)

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Parmely was a strong upper weight who made an impact from the first varsity match. He was a four-time Tri-Rivers Conference champion. Parmely became the Wildcats’ first four-time state medalist, placing fourth and third in his first two seasons before capping his career with consecutive 1A 220-pound state titles. He is Maquoketa Valley’s all-time leader in pins (121) and wins, going 203-6. Parmely wrestled and played football for Upper Iowa.

HWT. — Austin Blythe, Williamsburg (2008-11)

Blythe was a rare talent believed to be the only of the 61 four-time state finalists to accomplish the feat at heavyweight. As a freshman, his title at Benton Community’s Jerry Eckenrod Bobcat Invitational was the boost he needed, making the finals that season and winning three 2A titles. Blythe became Williamsburg’s all-time wins leader, going 188-11. He also ranks among the state’s best with 146 pins. Blythe also was an All-American in freestyle and Greco-Roman, reaching the national finals after his sophomore year. Blythe earned all-Big Ten and All-America honors as an offensive lineman for Iowa and now plays for the Los Angeles Rams.

Wrestler of the Decade

138/145 POUNDS — Max Thomsen, Union Community (2012-15)

Thomsen was as good as anyone in history. He captured 2A titles at 113, 126, 138 and 145. By the time Thomsen graduated, he was the 24th Iowan to win four state titles. He held the state record in career victories when he finished 210-1. His 157 career pins was also a state record and ranks second currently. Thomsen also owns the longest winning streak in state history, taking his last 199 matches. One of those was a victory over Bettendorf’s Fredy Stroker in a battle of two of the nation’s top preps for the Keith Young Invitational championship. Thomsen also logged a victory over Iowa’s Michael Kemerer in a Dream Team event in Independence. Thomsen is a senior at UNI, qualifying for the NCAA tournament three times and earning All-America honors as a freshman with a fifth-place finish at 149.

Coach of the Decade

Brad Smith, Lisbon

Smith started the decade with City High, and after a brief retirement, the Hall of Famer returned to Lisbon where he cut his coaching teeth more than 30 years earlier. He helped restore the Lions as a perennial 1A contender. Smith guided Lisbon to the 1A state title sweep in 2017 and a traditional state team title in 2018. The Lions were the 2016 state duals runners-up and second in the traditional tournament in 2016 and 2019. Lisbon has reached state duals for five straight seasons. Smith surpassed the legendary Bob Siddens for first place all-time with 12 state team titles. He has 637 career dual victories, trailing all-time wins leader Kent Kersten by just eight.

HONORABLE MENTION

Brenden Baker, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Jacob Holschlag, Union Community

Alijah Jeffery, Linn-Mar

Cade Jones, West Branch

Clint Lembeck, Cedar Rapids Xavier

Logan Mulnix, North Linn

Trey Ryan, Mount Vernon

Brendan Schott, North Linn

Cooper Siebrecht, Lisbon

Tanner Sloan, Alburnett

Hunter Washburn, Alburnett

Matt Wempen, Linn-Mar

Josh Wenger, Cedar Rapids Prairie

Nick Williams, Lisbon

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

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