Five Perry wrestlers know one thing for certain: Each can make the final podium at the state tournament if they can secure two victories before suffering two losses.
That, of course, is the rub, Bluejay head coach Trevor Kittleson was quick to note.
“There is nobody down there (at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines) who got there by accident,” he said. “When you reach this level you deserve it. Every guy down there, at every weight, is a potential state champion. Every guy is good enough to make the podium, and our guys are included in that list.
“I have no reason to believe we are not going to have a lot of success,” Kittleson continued. “I truly believe all have a legitimate shot to be on the stand.”
The quest for a coveted medal spot in the Class 2A field will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday. Those advancing with a win — or a consolation win after an opening loss — will return for the 2:30 p.m. session Friday, which could lead to additional wrestling at 8:45 p.m. (the session begins at 7:30 p.m.) later Friday evening. Consolation semi-finals and finals will begin for all classes at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the “big show” beginning at 5:45 p.m. Saturday with IWCOA, IHSADA and IHSAA Awards, followed by the Grand March and Finals at 6 p.m.
Based solely on the brackets, it appears, at least on paper, that some of the Bluejays received more favorable draws than others, but Kittleson reiterated what he has been saying: Rankings mean little once the field has been whittled as thinly as at the state tournament.
“Yes, the top guys often have success, but every year there are more than a few upsets,” he said. “I see it every single year: What matters a whole lot is who happens to be ‘on’ that day … which guy is more relaxed, more confident and more able to avoid mistakes. Those guys are the guys that win at state.”
Kaleb Olejniczak (30-5) will open his journey in the 106-pound bracket against fellow freshman Andrew Flora (39-16) of ADM. The two have yet to meet this season. They share a four-man bracket with second-ranked Eric Fraught (32-0, Fr.) of Clear Lake and seventh-rated junior Dylan Robinson (39-9) of New Hampton.
Zach Thompson (29-4) was sixth last season at 113 and will open his stay at 120 against freshman Chase McLaren (47-7) of Atlantic. The other pair in the bracket at Jon Hellman (41-5, Sr.) of LaPorte City Union and Joe Minkler (38-7, Sr.) of Pocahontas Area/Laurens-Marathon.
Perry senior Gisaveri Niyibizi (23-2) is ranked 10th at 126 and will face off with MOC-Floyd Valley senior Tyler Rupp (29-6) while Charles City junior Nate Lasher (28-12, Jr.) duels Glenwood sophomore Trevor Anderson (33-12) in the other part of the bracket.
The only Perry wrestler to appear in four state tournaments in their career is 132-pounder Kade VanKirk (27-4), and the eighth-ranked senior would love for his first state victory to come at the expense of Mt. Vernon junior Tony Garem (25-6). LaPorte City Union junior Derek Holschlag (27-1) and Davis County senior Walker Henderson (41-5) occupy the other half of the bracket.
The final Bluejay to take to the mat will be senior Eli Saemisch (46-9), who has drawn top-ranked Cashe Shiltz (39-1) of Creston/Orient-Macksburg. Though the two teams have tangled twice this season, Saemisch and Shiltz are yet to meet. Opposite the duo in the bracket is third-ranked Tucker Morrison (44-1, Jr.) of Columbus Community and Luke Janness (36-10, Fr.) of Sheldon/South O’Brien.
“All of our guys are a little banged up, but so is everybody at this point in the season,” Kittleson said. “The key is to go out, be relaxed, and make the other guy wrestle your match. If we do that, we will be fine, because I already know how hard our guys will go.”
The five state qualifiers were joined in the wrestling room Monday by at least half of the Perry team, who were more than happy to have a hand in helping their teammates prepare for the big stage.
“There are certain positions we will work on, but you are not going to be making any big changes at this point,” Kittleson said. “A tweak here or there is all we will worry about.”
The atmosphere in the wrestling room was both light and highly-charged, as an extended round of what can best be described as a combination of hackey-sack and dodgeball broke out, with Kittleson, his assistants and one or two of the girl managers involved.
“We want to keep it loose and to have some fun,” the coach said. “There will be plenty of time to be serious, so why not have a little fun along the way? Sometimes guys get so worked up they forget to have fun — and wrestling is fun.”