Prep Wrestling

State wrestling: West Liberty's Will Esmoil focused on fun

Early-season break has propelled Comets' 145-pound junior

West Liberty's Will Esmoil, top, wrestles Don Bosco's Max Wettengel in a 145 pound semifinal during the 2019 Bobcat Jerry Eckenrod Invitational at Benton Community High School in Van Horne on Saturday, January 5, 2019. Esmoil won by fall at 5:46. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
West Liberty's Will Esmoil, top, wrestles Don Bosco's Max Wettengel in a 145 pound semifinal during the 2019 Bobcat Jerry Eckenrod Invitational at Benton Community High School in Van Horne on Saturday, January 5, 2019. Esmoil won by fall at 5:46. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Wrestling is enjoyable again for Will Esmoil.

He is looking forward to taking the mat, but that wasn’t the case after last season or even two months ago.

The West Liberty junior stepped away from the sport briefly, recharging and refocusing. He has been unbeaten since his return and is the seventh seed in the 145-pound bracket of the Class 2A state wrestling tournament Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

Third-ranked Esmoil (33-2) opens with Clarion CGD's Keaton Wilson.

“I’m just going into the state tournament, wrestling and having fun,” Esmoil said. “Whatever happens happens, but No. 1 would still be fun, getting on top of the podium. That’s in the back of my head, right now.”

Esmoil has won 26 matches, beating Monticello’s then-No. 1 Chase Luensman, 7-5, for the River Valley Conference title. He has been more aggressive and improved on his feet.

“I’ve been taking a lot of shots,” Esmoil said. “I’ve been working on my feet. I think I’ve improved a lot on that, too.”

His mind wasn’t even set on wrestling at the start of the season. Esmoil placed third at 106 pounds as a freshman, but was denied a spot on the podium last year. The sting from the finish lingered throughout the offseason.

“After the season ended last year, I was pretty devastated,” Esmoil said. “This year, I wasn’t sure if I even was going to go out for wrestling.”

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A disappointing loss in the state football semifinals at the UNI-Dome compounded the struggles. Esmoil suffered his only two losses at Cedar Falls’ Keith Young Invitational the first weekend. He took a week off in December before returning for a dual tournament right before the holiday break.

Coach Ian Alke said Esmoil may not have had enough time to regroup between sports.

“Will holds himself to an extremely high standard,” Alke said. “He doesn’t do anything halfhearted.

“I think he needed to refocus and figure out why he wrestled.”

Personal loss played a factor as well. Esmoil’s grandfather, Mike, died between seasons. His father, Mark, reminded him how big of a fan he was of Will. It was a love Mark and Mike shared.

“He would be at every tournament and meet, watching me,” Esmoil said of his grandfather. “He’s not here anymore, so I can wrestle for him.”

Esmoil rekindled his fire and isn’t overwhelmed by practices or cutting weight. He is concerned with his progress more than results.

“Practices are better,” Esmoil said. “I’m not thinking about weight. I’m just focused on getting a good workout in and a good sweat.

“Each match, win or lose, it’s just a sport. Just have fun.”

The coaches encourage a lighthearted approach from Esmoil, emphasizing fun and dealing with one match at a time. The process is more important than the victories. Alke noticed a changed mindset upon Esmoil’s return.

“He was refreshed,” Alke said. “He was all in.”

The sky is the limit for Esmoil. Alke said he has the potential to return to the awards stand. Imagine the fun he would have on the top step Saturday night.

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“He can win it all,” Alke said. “He can take the whole thing. He has the tools.”

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

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.