The Class 2A district tournament helped set some high expectations for the Heelan wrestling team as it goes to the state tournament on Thursday.
While Heelan didn't win the district title, the Crusaders were a close second and ended up qualifying seven wrestlers for the state tournament.
The seven are significant because not only is it the second-most wrestlers Heelan has ever sent to state, it's also the second-most wrestlers going to the state tournament out of anyone in 2A. The only team sending more is West Delaware with eight wrestlers.
"For all of the ups and downs of the season, with our high level of competition, it shows that the work and tough competition paid off and we are excited for the guys," Heelan co-head coach Matt Pugh said. "To take seven, that's a really good feeling as a coach."
With so many wrestlers going to state, Pugh said the Crusaders have a chance to make a significant impact at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
"Obviously our biggest team expectation is to come home with some hardware and to make some noise," Pugh said. "We want people to recognize Heelan as a wrestling school. We would love to have a good team finish and we want to get everyone on the podium. That's our expectation. Go and make some noise and get everyone some hardware."
Junior Kobe Clayborne is Heelan's top-ranked wrestler at the state tournament. Clayborne is 34-1 on the season and is ranked No. 2 at 285 pounds. It's the second straight trip for Clayborne, who finished in sixth-place at 285 last season.
Spencer Trenary (46-0) of Clarion-Goldfield-Dows is on the other side of the bracket as Clayborne. Trenary is ranked No. 1. Clayborne might have a matchup with No. 3 Justin Jones (39-3) of Humboldt in the quarterfinals.
"I think if he just goes out there and does what he does, he will be successful," Pugh said. "He doesn't take losing lightly. Just stick to his gameplan and wrestle within himself. It never seems like the state is too big for him."
Last season Brennan Todd made his first trip to the state tournament and finished in seventh place at 138 pounds. He stayed at the same weight class this season and is ranked No. 4 at 138 in 2A with a 45-2 record.
If Todd, a senior, wins his first-round match, he could face top-ranked Jack Thomsen (43-0) of Union in the quarterfinals.
"I think Brennan has the opportunity to go a long way. He's a smart kid and a strong kid. He won't let anything hold him back," Pugh said. "He has a lot of opportunities to do some good things. It's going to be up to him at the end of the day."
Senior Luke Martin (160) and sophomore Mitchell Joines are both two-time state qualifiers. Joines is 28-10 on the season and he faces No. 7-ranked Jackson Rolfs (34-6) of Decorah in the first round and a potential match with top-ranked Eric Faught (34-0) of Clear Lake in the quarterfinals.
Martin is 39-7 this season. He faces eighth-ranked Caleb Swalla (35-5) of Van Meter-Earlham in the first round and a potential match with No. 2-ranked West Cummings (38-2) of PCM in the quarterfinals.
"The matches that Luke has lost are to top-ranked guys and some close matches. He's definitely capable of finishing high in this event. I am looking forward to seeing what he's capable of," Pugh said. "Mitchell, I really want him to walk out with some hardware. It's his second year there and it's huge but the expectation is for him to get on the podium as a sophomore and he's fully capable of doing that."
It's the first trip to state for freshman Jacob McGowan (106, 28-20), senior Frank Vondrak (160, 36-8) and junior Colby Wilmesherr (182, 35-14).
Pugh said the goal is to get the team to state a day early to soak in the atmosphere of the state tournament.
"A lot of us went last year to see what it is about. I'm hoping there's no shock factor," Pugh said. "I'm hoping we've wrestled in enough venues like the Battle of Waterloo and such and that we did everything to prepare them for this."
The Class 2A tournament starts at 6 p.m on Thursday.