SERGEANT BLUFF | Sometimes the sting of disappointment is just what a wrestler needs.
Lawton-Bronson senior Austin Eilers was a state qualifier as a freshman before experiencing some of the lowest lows the sport can dish out as a sophomore.
“Sophomore year he didn’t make it out of sectionals after being a state qualifier as a freshman,” Lawton-Bronson Coach Kyle Lewis said. “It was gallons and gallons of fuel that just motivated him and I think it still motivates him. We know in this sport nothing is guaranteed and you get what you earn.
“Hitting rock bottom his sophomore year was the best thing that could happen to him.”
Rock bottom seemed so far away Saturday at the Sergeant Bluff-Luton Invitational as he pinned his first two opponents in the first period before the statement match against Ballard’s Class 2A 145 pound top-ranked Skyler Noftsger.
Eilers, 8-0, gave up an early takedown, but the Class 1A fourth-ranked wrestler proved his conditioning and pace were too much on his way to the 6-3 win at 152 pounds.
It is the kind of victory he credits to the hard work and determination he has used since his second-year disappointment.
“Sophomore year was a hiccup really,” he said. “My head wasn’t right all year. I blew up my knee early in the season and after that I just thought my season would be done.”
The victory over Noftsger, a state runner-up a year ago, should bode well for his senior season.
“This was a great test, this was a huge test,” Lewis said. “This is a tough tournament and we are glad for it. It is early and it will help us for training and continuing down the road here.
“Now he wants the tough guys. He wants the tough guys in the room, he wants the tough guys at tournaments. He is looking forward to wrestling those guys because he knows those guys are going to push him.”
One win will not make Eilers’ season but perhaps his mindset will.
“Last year I was more like ‘who is in this bracket?’” he said. “This year it is just different. I don’t even look at the bracket, I don’t care who is in it. I just go out and dominate.”
Lewis saw the start of Eilers’ transformation at the state tournament last year after his wrestler dropped a quarterfinal to eventual state runner-up Dylan Schuck.
“The next match after that was the match that decided who is this Austin kid we have,” Lewis said. “Because if he lost that match he would not have placed. So to be able to come back in a very short time and wrestle a very tough kid then we knew this kid is for real.”
Eilers would go on to post three more wins to take fifth at 145.
“I knew I had to bounce back and I wasn’t too worried and I just had to set my mind right to bounce back,” he said. “Just being on the podium wasn’t what I wanted, just stepping on it. I wanted to be on the top.”
The 152-pounder prepared for his final prep season with a hard summer of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
“I made it to Fargo in Greco and I think that helped me wrestling with those top-tier guys,” he said. “I think it has really helped me for this season.”
“It gave him more confidence and he came back and he wants to train harder,” Lewis said. “He goes to Fargo and he is 3-2 and had a great tournament. He comes back and it is eye-opening and it is I can do this and go to a new level.”
That new level comes with a very confident wrestler who may just be ready to climb a few more steps on that podium.