DES MOINES — Perry seniors Gisaveri Niyibizi and Kade VanKirk will end their prep careers standing on the podium at the Class 2A State Wrestling Tournament for the first time, while sophomore Zach Thompson will end his second varsity season with yet another state tourney medal.
Exactly which step on the podium each Bluejay will stand upon will be determined beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, and while the exact destination of each is still unknown there are some assurances: Niyibizi and Thompson will place either third, fourth, fifth or sixth, and VanKirk either seventh or eighth.
The trio earned their spots after competing in the second day of the state tourney. Bluejay teammates Eli Saemisch and Kaleb Olejniczak were not as fortunate, as both were eliminated from medal contention Friday.
Thompson (31-5) advanced to the semifinals at 120 pounds with an impressive 6-3 win over Jon Hellman (42-7) of LaPorte City Union. The Bluejay sophomore was in control throughout in securing a consecutive trip to the medal stand.
He ran into third-ranked sophomore Michael Millage (37-5) of Mediapolis in the semifinal round. Millage, the defending champion at 106 pounds, had led Thompson, 6-0, before winning by pin in the semifinals last season, with the Perry frosh going on to place sixth.
This meeting was vastly different, with a Thompson take down giving him a 3-2 lead. Millage scored an escape and take down for a 5-3 lead, but Thompson escaped to close to within 5-4. Unfortunately he could come no closer and was sent to the consolation semifinals.
He will face fourth-ranked Rhyker Sims (47-2, So.) of Sergeant Bluff-Luton at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the winner to wrestle for third place and the loser for fifth. Second-ranked Connor Cleveland (46-3, Sr.) of New Hampton and fifth-rated Jared Hensly (32-5, Jr.) of Bedford-Lenox are in the opposing semifinal.
Niyibizi (25-3) reached the semis at 126 pounds in thrilling fashion, using a take down with eight seconds left to defeat Glenwood sophomore Trevor Anderson (36-13) by a 5-3 final.
He drew top-rated Brock Rathbun (47-0) of Center Point-Urbana, who was the 120-pound champion last year. Rathbun had won his first match at state by a 16-0 technical fall and his second with an 11-3 major decision but found scoring on Niyibizi was no easy matter. A first period take down gave Rathbun a 2-0 lead and the score never moved from there, allowing the undefeated senior Stormin’ Pointer to slip off with the victory.
Niyibizi will square off against South Tama County sophomore Tanner Probasco (42-4) in the consolation semifinals, with Anderson and fourth-ranked Ryan Steffen (37-7, So.) of Crestwood in the other semifinal. As with Thompson, a win would allow Niyibizi to wrestle for third place, otherwise fifth place would be up for grabs.
Eighth-ranked VanKirk (29-6) faced a do-or-die battle against No. 6 Austin Gutknecht (43-4, So.) at 132 pounds in the consolation second round. Gutknecht led, 2-1, before a VanKirk take down gave the Perry senior a 3-2 lead, which he did not relinquish.
VanKirk leapt to his feet at the whistle as the Perry coaches erupted in joy. An emotional VanKirk, who, like Thompson, has battled a series of injuries, lifted his arms and pointed toward the Perry faithful, who were on their feet and roaring in excitement.
He returned to mat in the evening session and competed almost simultaneously with Thompson and Niyibizi’s semifinals in a third-round consolation bout against third-rated Shea Swafford (37-4, Sr.) of Mediapolis. Swafford was in control all the way, eventually scoring a 5-2 win.
VanKirk will now face South Tama County sophomore Colton Vest (32-6) Saturday, with seventh place the prize.
Olejniczak (31-7) had the tough challenge of meeting second-ranked Eric Fraught (35-0) of Clear Lake in the quarterfinal round. The Lion freshman recorded a fall in 3:47, bouncing the Bluejay frosh to the consolation second round, an elimination stage.
Central Decatur’s Wyatt Dale (49-9, So.) awaited Olejniczak. Dale appeared to be at least four inches taller than Olejniczak and used his spindly form and far greater reach to keep the aggressive Bluejay at bay, using counter moves and leverage to repeatedly score en route to a 13-4 major decision.
Saemisch (47-11) faced Iowa Falls-Alden junior Michael Kent (35-11) in his consolation second-round match. Both wrestlers immediately went to the mat, with the pair rolling back-and-forth and exchanging the top position numerous times as it became clear that whoever could stop momentum while on top would score a pinfall.
Unfortunately for Saemisch, it was Kent who seized the first advantage, recording the pin in 30 seconds in a match that could very easily have gone either way.
Consolation semifinals begin the 10 a.m. session Saturday, with Class 1A followed by 3A while 2A competes last. After all semifinals are finished, the classes will compete for third, fifth and seventh place at each weight.