DES MOINES — Five Perry wrestlers competed Thursday in the first day of the Class 2A state tournament. All five will return to compete this afternoon, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
No wonder, then, for the big smile on head coach Trevor Kittleson’s face as his grapplers were preparing to leave the Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night.
Freshman Kaleb Olejniczak (106 pounds), sophomore Zach Thompson (120) and senior Gisaveri Niyibizi (126) all won their opening round matches. To earn a spot on the podium they need to collect one more victory before losing twice, and if that win should come in their first match Friday, it would mean an appearance in the state semifinals at 8:45 p.m. tonight.
Seniors Kade VanKirk (132) and Eli Saemisch (170) both bounced back from opening round losses to record consolation victories. While they are in peril of elimination with a first-match loss Friday, a first-match win would assure either of a podium spot ranging from third place to eighth, depending upon further action.
Olejniczak, Thompson (who was sixth at 106 last season) and Niyibizi would be assured of no worse than sixth place with a first-match win Friday. A loss would then require a win later Friday evening that would then assure a placing of 3-8.
Olejniczak (31-5) appeared visibly nervous before his match, but so did his opponent, fellow frosh Andrew Flora (39-16) of ADM. Once the match started it was all Olejniczak, as the Bluejay featherweight scored repeatedly en route to a 10-3 decision that brought the Perry faithful in section 106 to their feet for the first of what would be five standing ovations.
Friday will find Olejniczak pitted against second-ranked Eric Fraught (33-0) of Clear Lake, who won a 9-0 decision over No. 7 Dylan Robinson (40-10) of New Hampton. A win moves Olejniczak to the semis, where he would face either No. 3 Shea Ruffridge of Pocahontas Area (45-0, So.) or No. 8 Kole Hansen (46-6, So.) of Atlantic. Should Olejniczak lose to Fraught, he would face Wyatt Dale (48-8, So.) of Central Decatur in an elimination bout.
Thompson (30-4) traded points with Atlantic’s Chase McLaren (48-8, Fr.) before a late take down gave the win to the Perry grappler. He faces LaPorte City Union’s Jon Hellman (42-5, Sr.), who stopped Pocahontas Area senior Joe Minkler (38-9), 3-2. Should Thompson reach the semis, we will meet either No. 3 Michael Millage (35-5, So.) of Crestwood or No. 9 Nick Meling (42-4, Jr.) of East Marshall. A loss to Hellman would force a win-or-leave bout against Chariton’s Gabe Ruepke (26-6, So.)
Tenth-ranked Niyibizi (24-2) had his hands full with MOC-Floyd Valley senior Tyler Rupp (29-8), but never appeared to be in serious danger en route to a 6-4 win. He will battle Glenwood sophomore Trevor Anderson (34-12), who tallied a 7-6 win over Charles City junior Nate Lasher (29-13). A victory would set up a semifinal showdown against the winner of the match between top-ranked Brock Rathbun (45-0, Sr.) of Center Point-Urbana and No. 8 Tyler Shatek (39-10, Sr.) of New Hampton. Should Anderson win, Niyibizi would meet Chariton sophomore Dylan Harberts (38-10) in an elimination contest.
VanKirk (28-5) scored 10 points Thursday. He also allowed 10 points. But what mattered most was the first win for the eighth-rated senior in eight matches on the mats at the state tourney.
He opened against Tony Garcia (26-6, Jr.) of Mt. Vernon and was continually frustrated by his slippery foe, who managed to avoid VanKirk’s best attacks en route to a 6-4 win.
VanKirk returned in the consolation round against Davis County senior Walker Henderson (41-7) and this time emerged on the winning side of a 6-4 decision.
“I knew this was it, that all I have worked for these four years came down to this match,” VanKirk said of his win. “I didn’t want any regrets … I wanted to just go out there and wrestle hard and wrestle my kind of match and I did.”
He said all thoughts of having to wait so long for his first victory at state vanished when he head the final whistle.
“I just jumped up and waited to have my arm raised,” he said. “I was savoring every second … it was everything I thought it would be.”
VanKirk will have to wait for the second-round matches to discover who he will face in an elimination match. He will draw the loser of the bout between No. 5 Austin Rozeboom (39-1, So.) of Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley and No. 6 Austin Gutknecht (43-2, So.) of Clear Lake.
Saemisch (47-10) had the tough task of opening against the defending champion at 160 pounds, senior Chase Shiltz (39-1) or Creston/Orient-Macksburg, in the first round of the 170-pound bracket. The Bluejay senior scored a quick take down, but Shiltz was non-plussed and quickly recorded a pin, winning in 40 seconds.
Sheldon frosh Luke Jeness (36-12) had dropped a 5-1 decision to No. 3 Tucker Morrison (45-1, Jr.) of Columbus Community and awaited Saemisch in the consolation bracket. He did not have to wait long to discover whether his opponent from Perry would be aggressive, as Saemisch controlled the action for the get-go and went on to record a pin in 5 minutes, 22 seconds.
Saemisch will await the loser of the bout between No. 4 Nick Holt (46-3, Sr.) of Independence and No. 9 Michael Kent (34-9, Jr.) of Iowa Falls-Alden.
ThePerryNews.com will have updated information throughout the tournament, with a full report and numerous photos from today’s action later this evening.