AMES — The first Saturday of January has long meant a trip to the always-tough Jack Mendenhall Invitational for the Perry wrestling team. The opportunity to wrestle against opponents from strong programs — some of them much larger than Perry — has long appealed to a series of Bluejay coaches.
Current head coach Mark Weber is among the believers, knowing the test his grapplers receive will only help sharpen their skills for later in the season.
“I am very happy with the fight out of all of the wrestlers today,” Weber said. “I saw more fight out of some of the guys competing in Ames, as a team, that I have all season. Guys were more in sync today and the fight was collective.”
Senior Kaleb Olejniczak (27-1) continued his climb up the Perry record book at the event. Ranked second in 2A at 138, he finished 3-1 with a pin, a decision and a medical forfeit to reach the finals and record his 160th career win, passing two-time state champion Kane Seeley (158) in the process. Only 2018 graduate Zach Thompson (174) has more victories as a Bluejay.
Olejniczak squared off with Omaha Skutt Catholic’s Nicholas Stoltenberg (17-1), who the Jay senior had defeated last year. This time Stoltenberg prevailed, winning 3-2.
“I think he (Olejniczak) was ready to go, just could not get to a scoring position on his feet despite his effort,” Weber said of the showdown. “It was a hard-fought match.”
Also placing second for Perry was 152-pounder Justin Stammer. The senior went 3-1 with a pin and two decisions to lift his current season mark to 22-7.
“Stammer had the tournament of his career so far,” Weber stated. “I am extremely proud of him and how he has conducted himself as a leader this season. He wrestled every position of his matches, taking advantage of some late-period takedowns and earned his way to the finals.”
Jacob Nelson (20-6) was 3-2 with a pin, a win in sudden victory I and a decision to finish fifth at 132, with Cole Nelson (21-8) 2-3 with a pin and a decision in placing sixth at 106.
Riece Graham (113 pounds) and Cole Snyder (182) were both 1-2 for Perry, with Jeb Stewart (132) and Bryan Funez (145) both 1-3. Tanner Burgin (120), Erick Funez (160) and Jered Narber (170) were also in action but unable to win either of their two matches.
“The Nelson’s, Stewart, Snyder, Graham, the Funez twins and Narber all had very close matches,” Weber noted. “Some matches came down to overtime and others to the last 30 seconds or less.”
While it would be tempting to focus on Olejniczak and Stammer as the only grapplers to reach the finals, Weber said it was the overall effort of the Bluejays as a team that was most satisfying to witness.
“There were a handful of matches lost in the third period, and that hurts, but we will learn from the good and the bad and be better because of the experience,” he said. “This was a tough tournament and I believe that the boys showed up to wrestle. They will keep working hard in the room, making adjustments and improving every day. Daily improvements will lead to big results.”
Perry will join Winterset for a triangular at Creston Thursday before hosting their own annual invitational Saturday. Carlisle, Carroll, Des Moines East, Des Moines North/Hoover, Dowling Catholic, Eagle Grove, Logan-Magnolia, Panorama, Saydel, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, South Hamilton, Spencer, Van Meter, Webster City, West Delaware, West Marshall and Woodward-Granger will all in be action beginning at 9:30 a.m.