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Ben Kueter pictures the culmination of a dominant Iowa high school wrestling career

Iowa City High wrestler looking to join exclusive club in this week’s Iowa high school state wrestling tournament

Ben Kueter pictures the culmination of a dominant Iowa high school wrestling career
Iowa City High’s Ben Kueter has his hand raised after winning his third state wrestling championship on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Ben Kueter contemplated how he wanted his high school wrestling career to look.

The Iowa City High senior had plenty to consider — the wins, the records, the titles and domination. A thrilling style and his impact on the aspiring Ben Kueters of the world.

“The biggest thing is as an entertainer, you could say, and just being fun to watch,” Kueter said. “More importantly, being a good role model for future wrestlers.

“I enjoy talking to kids at tournaments. I’ll take pictures at tournaments and sign stuff. I’d definitely say being a big role model for those kids, helping them and making sure they enjoy it. If they work hard, they can see what it can lead to.”

Kueter has one more opportunity to emblazon his image on high school wrestling fans of all ages when he competes in the Class 3A state wrestling tournament, starting Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. He has an opportunity to join the state’s most elite group as the 32nd four-time state champion and seventh to complete an undefeated high school career.

“The biggest thing is do what I always do and take it one match at a time,” Kueter said. “I’m not going to lie and say I’m not thinking about it. It is my last tournament. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

Many eyes will be on him when he takes the mat each round. Youth wrestlers will be fixed on each takedown or victory, like how he watched Lisbon’s Carter Happel win four titles from 2013-16. They may even try to sidle up near him for a photo or reach out a marker to autograph a shirt, hat or program. That accessibility was instilled by his mom and dad, Tina and Scott.

“My parents have raised me to be a good person,” Kueter said. “So, when a kid asks for a picture or a kid wants to talk, I’m going to sit down and talk with him or take a picture with him.

“It’s something a good person would do. I really have come to enjoy that.”

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Kueter’s fun-loving attitude allows him to relate well with younger kids. Just look at the picture tweeted by his club coach, T.J. Sebolt, a former four-time state champion at Centerville who runs Sebolt Wrestling Academy. The hulk-like Kueter is smiling and giving a thumbs-up while holding a club coach’s son upside down by his feet with the other. The tweet said, “Lane about had him right before this…”

He has tried to influence through his own success.

“I have noticed over the years legacy is important to him,” City High Coach Cory Connell said. “The last couple of weeks I brought the wrestling team to speak at elementary schools and it was fun to see him talk to those kids about what has helped him over the years.”

Career of dominance

From the time he stepped in the City High lineup, Kueter has tortured opponents. He enters state with a 107-0 career record, including a 35-0 mark this season. He has dominated most of his foes, earning 101 bonus-point victories for a 94.4-percent rate.

Only 11 of those matches have gone a full six minutes, tallying a combined 88 pins and technical falls. He has had just six matches end in decision and four of those have come at the state tournament. Three were in his freshman season, including a 4-3 160-pound finals win against Linn-Mar’s Tate Naaktgeboren, who is trying to reach his fourth final and win his third title this year.

Kueter beat Waverly-Shell Rock’s Jake Walker, 5-0, for the 195 title as a sophomore. It was his last decision against an Iowa foe, capping an 11-0 sophomore season severely shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight of those wins were by pin.

Last season, Kueter went 37-0 with 20 pins, 10 technical falls, a major and five forfeits. He won the 220-pound title, posting two technical falls and two pins at state.

Where does the prospect of becoming a four-time state champion rank among his accomplishments, which includes national and international success?

“I definitely say it’s up there with winning a World title,” Kueter said. “Winning a World title is sweet and that was awesome, but there wasn’t near as many people there as there would be at the Iowa high school state tournament, especially with it being at home. Being able to compete in front of those people, that is one thing I’d say is cooler than a World title. It’s definitely right up there.”

Connell first met Kueter when he was in third grade. He said he always knew Kueter would be successful, but didn’t imagine this type of resume.

“I would say the moment I knew he was going to be really special was when he was in eighth grade and we had some good seniors on the team at his weight,” Connell said. “The first time I saw him wrestle them and he got a tech fall against them in a match ... that was impressive.”

Working with the best

Kueter is a multiple-sport phenom who has announced his plans to wrestle and play football at the University of Iowa. Baseball helped him form a relationship with one of the best ever.

Kueter has been a member of the Little Hawks’ baseball team and played with Gable Mitchell, the grandson of Waterloo West, Iowa State and Iowa legend Dan Gable. They were introduced and hit it off.

When the Kueters moved to Iowa City, they lived in a rental property near Gable. Kueter would make his way over for some training.

“There was a good while where I’d go over there and get workouts in,” Kueter said. “So, we developed a good relationship through that.”

During the pandemic-interrupted season, City High was shut down until January. The Little Hawks weren’t even able to practice. Kueter would go to Gable’s home to train a couple times a week.

“The cool thing about that is it would be something different every day,” Kueter said. “You really had no idea what you were in for. That was something cool to think about.”

The two were pictured together in August before Kueter left for the 2022 World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. The 1972 Olympic gold medalist posed with the eventual 213-pound U20 World champion, who went 7-0 and pinned an opponent from Turkey in the final.

“It’s cool to sit back and realize how lucky and fortunate I am to be able to have a relationship with him,” said Kueter, knowing their families have watched the NCAA tournaments together. “At first, that’s how you look at it, but once you get to know him it’s just like another relationship. He’s just another person.”

Joining Gable and other legends

A fourth state title would also mean an unblemished career. Gable was the first to finish his high school career undefeated, winning three titles from 1964-66 with a 64-0 mark. Jeff Kerber went 126-0 for Emmetsburg from 1976-79. Current Bettendorf Coach Dan Knight went 128-0 for Clinton from 1984-87.

Maquoketa’s Eric Juergens was 144-0 from 1993-96 and the feat hasn’t been done since Des Moines Roosevelt’s John Meeks went 168-0 from 2009-12.

City High is already represented on the list by Jeff McGinness, who went 172-0 from 1990-93.

“It’s not something I think about a lot. I just go out and wrestle,” Kueter said. “Whatever happens happens. If I’m undefeated, great. If I’m not, the sun comes up the next day. It would definitely be cool to be a part of that.”

⧉ Related article: Iowa high school boys’ state wrestling 2023: Class-by-class breakdown, predictions

Connell was a City High state champion. He grew up “idolizing” McGinness. Kueter asked how he stacked up to Connell’s hero.

“I told him I cannot consider you in the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) discussion when you haven't even qualified for a World Championship,” Connell said. “I told him to be the G.O.A.T. you have to do G.O.A.T. things. Since he has won his World championship it is hard not to consider him the G.O.A.T.”

Many contributors to success

In addition to his coaches, there have been many teammates and family members who have pushed him to elite levels.

He has benefited from championship workout partners. Current Hawkeye Kolby Franklin was in the City High room last year. This year, nationally-ranked two-time prep national champion Gabe Arnold transferred to City High from Wyoming Seminary Prep in Kingston, Pa.

“It’s great and they’re both like-minded people,” Kueter said. “We have some of the same goals. We all want to win national titles and Olympic titles, so it’s nice to have somebody on the same plane as you. It can get pretty lonely having to do it by yourself, but if you have a couple other guys doing it with you, it makes it a lot easier.”

The desire to push himself in practice and embrace challenges prevented any complacency. He possesses a drive to improve, which allowed him to develop when opponents weren’t able to compete.

“He is a special kid,” Connell said. “He is never satisfied. He is always looking for ways to get better. He has also done a good job of surrounding himself with partners, coaches and friends to push him further.”

None take the place of Tina and Scott. His parents realized his potential and kept him focused to be his best. Kueter recalled how they loaded up the family car for a more than two-hour drive for practice with Sebolt and then would sit through a two- to three-hour practice.

“From a young age, knowing I have to work hard in order to be good at this sport and that’s something they instilled in me,” Kueter said. “As a kid, there’s days you don’t want to go to practice or you just want to sit at home and play games. It was, ‘Nope. You’re going to practice.’ At the time, I was frustrated with that but looking back I’m super grateful they did that and pushed me.

“I accomplished what I accomplished because of them.”

Saturday night

Kueter has experienced four wrestlers capture a fourth title and the customary standing ovation from the state’s appreciative fans during his high school career. Even though his sights are set on his first match against the winner of Linn-Mar’s Griffin Schultz and Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Asher Smith, he has envisioned that Saturday night moment many times.

“I feel like I do a lot more visualization than most of my opponents,” Kueter said. “For me, personally, I’ve already wrestled that finals match 100 times and being able to see that. It’s something I’m looking forward to, but I have to get the first match out of the way on Wednesday and whatever is after that.

“It is something I think about and picture a lot.”