WEBSTER CITY — Eight Perry wrestlers competed Saturday in the Class 2A District 8 Tournament. Five secured a coveted invitation to the State Tournament, and although three other Bluejays came up just short, head coach Trevor Kittleson said he was more than proud of the effort of his grapplers.
“Of course we wanted all eight to go to state, but every one of them went out there and wrestled as hard as they could, and as a coach I cannot ask any more of them,” he said. “I am just as proud of how hard Zach Stewart, Jacob Thompson and Adan Medina wrestled as I am of the guys going to state.”
The Class 2A State Tourney begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, and competing for Perry will be freshman Kaleb Olejniczak (106 pounds), sophomore Zach Thompson (120), senior Gisaveri Niyibizi (126), senior Kade VanKirk (132) and senior Eli Saemisch (170).
“When the district brackets came out, you had to say these five had the best chance to advance, but anything can happen, so they had to go out and wrestle well, and they did,” Kittleson said. “I don’t think these guys are done, either. I see more wins ahead for all of them, and I would not be surprised to see any or all of them on the podium.”
VanKirk, who is battling a serious knee injury, drew praise from his coach for his “unbelievable toughness.”
“He has hardly been on the mat the past few weeks, but he is wrestling really good,” Kittleson said. “He looks really solid, really good … I could go on and on … very impressive.”
VanKirk will appear at state for the fourth time, earning the right to do so by scoring a 9-1 major decision over Calen Rosenbaum of Clarion-Goldfied-Dows before topping Humboldt’s Joey Busse, 4-0, in the finals.
“When I got hurt I thought it was the worst possible thing that could happen,” VanKirk said. “I went to a few doctors and have been doing therapy with Clint (Lutterman) and it has really helped me get as healthy as I can and has given me the chance to just go out and give it my all.”
Niyibizi returns to state for the second consecutive season after a 10-4 decision against CGD’s Lucas Lienemann and a gritty 2-1 win over Webster City’s Cole Nokes.
“He had longer reach, so I just had to make sure he wasn’t going to score two points on me,” Niyibizi said of Nokes. “I am happy to be going back (to state).”
“He is on top of his game right now,” Kittleson said of his 126-pounder. “I expect him to make some noise at state.”
Zach Thompson was sixth at 113 last season and earned the chance to return at 120 by fighting off an injury.
He opened with a 13-5 win over Webster City’s Carson Hartnett, then bowed to top-ranked Josh Portillo by injury default in the finals. Hartnett lost to Gilbert’s Sinjin Briggs in the consolation match, forcing Thompson into a wrestle-back with Briggs, which the Bluejay won, 10-6, to return to Des Moines.
“He had to fight his way through it and he did,” Kittleson said. “Zach knows what it takes to make the podium and I see no reason he won’t do so again.”
Saemisch will make his final season a fond one after securing a spot on the big stage. His 12-6 win over Mason Carpenter of CGD but the Bluejay senior in the finals, but fifth-ranked Connor Shaw of Garner-Hayfield-Ventura caught Saemisch and scored a pin.
However, Carpenter won the consolation bout, and, as Saemisch had already defeated him, advanced by “prior.”
“I think it is pretty cool,” he said of making his first state tourney. “I have been going down there every year to watch and have been down on the floor, but never had the full experience until now. I just want to wrestle well and see all of us get past the first day.”
“Eli has always battled injuries,” Kittleson said. “He is a little nicked up now, but if we can get him at 100 percent he is going to give just about anybody a real run for their money.”
The youngest Bluejay in Des Moines will be freshman Olejniczak, who had little trouble in dispatching Algona’s Cameron Peterson (technical fall, 18-3, in 5 minutes, 44 seconds) in the semifinals before downing CGD’s Connor Johnson, 11-5, in the finals.
“I knew I just had to go out and make sure I wrestled my kind of match,” he said. “I am happy to make it (to state) in my first year.”
“Kaleb is just so solid,” Kittleson said. “Any mistake you make, he is going to make you pay — and he is good enough to make you pay even if you don’t make any mistakes. I look for him to do very well.”
Jacob Thompson came up short in the 145-pound bracket. He lost a 15-4 major decision to fifth-rated Brady Brott of CGD but bounced back to pin Kuemper Catholic’s Zak Hulsing in 3:06. Granted a wrestle-back against eight-ranked Pierce Gelhaus of Forest City, the Bluejay senior battle ferociously before dropping an 11-4 decision.
“I look at where he was at as a freshman to wear he is now and it is incredible,” Kittleson said. “He just ended up in a tough bracket, but let me tell you — there is not a kid I would rather coach than Jacob Thompson. I said it before, but believe me: I would love to have 20 just like him every year.”
Adan Medina (182 pounds) bowed out after suffering a pair of losses by fall, but Kittleson said his junior, who was out for wrestling for the first time, could be proud of what he accomplished this year.
“I will say the same thing for Adan and for Zach (Stewart), and that is they should be proud to make districts and to be sure and remember what they have learned and to use this experience to help them next year,” the coach said. “Work in the off-season and over the summer, added to what they learned this year, is going to make them both that much tougher next season.”
Stewart (138) lost by tech fall (22-7, 5:34) to fourth-ranked Tanner Abbas of CGD, then dropped a 6-2 decision to Webster City’s Gage Sadler in his first trip to the district level.
“We had eight guys wrestle well and go hard, and five of them made state,” Kittleson concluded. “All of them can be proud of what they have done.”
There was a scary moment late in the tourney during a wrestle-back match at 113 pounds when Greene County sophomore Kane Borgeson was the victim of an illegal throw from top-ranked Drake Doolittle of Webster City.
Borgeson lane prone on the mat for several minutes, with emergency personnel summoned to the scene as the gym fell silent. He was carefully restrained, placed on a backboard and taken by ambulance to the local hospital, where reports later in the evening indicated he had a full-range of motion in all extremities and is expected to fully recover.
Bluejay fans may recall Doolittle, wrestling at 113, performed a similar illegal move against Zach Thompson in the finals of the Perry Invitational Jan. 16. Thompson missed nearly two weeks of action due to observing the concussion protocol.