The Sergeant Bluff-Luton wrestlers haven't had much downtime since the beginning of football season. Clint Koedam has a good amount of SB-L football players on his wrestling roster and the Warriors started the football season on July 28 and made a run all the way to the state semifinals in the UNI Dome.
Three days later, some of those football players had to lace up their wrestling shoes for the beginning of the season, leaving little time for rest.
While it was a bit of a slow start to the season, the wrestlers picked up the pace even though it's been a grind. The work has paid off since the Warriors qualified six wrestlers for the traditional Class 2A state tournament and also qualified for the 2A state duals.
"I am just overall proud of these kids. We started a little slow and I could tell they hadn't changed from football to wrestling, relishing that success and some irritation from falling short in the semifinals," Koedam said. "When you have 15 to 17 kids that go from July 28 to February 13 for the duals, that's an impressive group of young men. Kudos to them for being able to stick to that championship mentality. Football, wrestling and basketball have been all in the same boat."
Now the Warriors hope to cap the season in style. With six wrestlers going to the traditional state tournament, the Warriors might have a shot at a top-three team trophy.
The six wrestlers who qualified for state are Braden Graff (113), Nate Curry (120), Jack Gaukel (132), Isaac Bryan (138), Easton Graff (152) and Blake Liebe (160).
"The team trophy has always been out of our reach. It's kind of like the unicorn. You think it might exist but it never ends up in your trophy case," Koedam joked. "I think we have guys that are determined enough to do their job for the benefit of everybody. It's a unique group of six guys. They all have their individual pieces but it fits together with them wanting to grow together. They haven't let the team down yet."
All six of those wrestlers usually drill against each other in practice which has helped iron sharpen iron. Even though all six are friends, they aren't willing to give up an inch to any of them, even in practice.
"Every day in the room, it's a dogfight to see if they can outdo the next. It's such a tremendous aspect. You have Easton who doesn't want to lose to anyone, Jack or Blake, and Jack is a returning finalist who isn't going to lose to anyone and Nate and Isaac won't lie down to either one. Braden is a freshman but he won't bow down to anyone."
Easton Graff is ranked No. 2 at 152 pounds and is 44-3 this season. It's Graff's second trip to state after missing out as a freshman and as a sophomore. He finished in fifth place last season.
Spirit Lake's Kyler Rieck is ranked No. 3 and could meet Graff in the semifinals. Graff defeated Rieck earlier this season. Top-ranked Adam Ahrendsen is on the other side of the bracket.
"Easton, it's his last opportunity to be a state champion. He for sure wants to go out on top," Koedam said. "He's a kid who didn't get what he wanted his freshman and sophomore years and he fell short last year. That's pretty powerful medicine."
Gaukel made the finals as a sophomore last season. He's ranked No. 2 at 132 and is 47-1 on the season. He's 10th in the state with 142 takedowns and he's only been taken down six times this season. He's seventh in the state with seven tech falls.
"With being in the finals last year, Jack is not going to be happy with anything less than being in the state finals," Koedam said.
Braden Graff is 45-5 on the season and is ranked No. 4 in 2A at 113.
"He's a freshman and a newcomer to state but the last three to four weeks of the season, he's been on fire and he's been destroying kids," Koedam said. "He's so focused and ready and confident."
It's the second trip to state for Curry and the 120-pounder is 39-9 this season. Bryan (34-13) is ranked No. 9 at 138 and is a returning state qualifier. Liebe is 32-12 and is making his first trip to the state tournament.
"Isaac, he was content being there last year and this year he chose to stay at 138. He's proving it and made that next step. He defeated (Heelan's Brennan) Todd at regional duals and is going in with a lot of energy," Koedam said. "Nate is a repeat guy. He wrestled 365 days a year. It's something that's in his blood as a family and he will get as far as he can.
"Blake is the only kid that hasn't been in this big stage but he's buddies with all of them and he wants to keep up with them and not fall short."
The 2A traditional tournament begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Arena.
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Warriors are in the state dual tournament and for the third time, SB-L is the No. 8 seed. The Warriors face top-seeded West Delaware at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Arena.
The Warriors got a chance to see West Delaware at a tournament in Perry and while West Delaware impressed Koedam, his team isn't going to lay down to any team.
"In a way, we are the Bad News Bears. We have nothing to lose. Nobody is expecting us to win and others believe we are the worst ones there so we need to go out and prove we are better than the eighth seed," Koedam said. "The coaches that seeded us low, it would be a nice motivation to show we are better than that. It doesn't matter if it's wrestling or life, it's all about the challenge."
SB-L finished in sixth place in 2017 and seventh in 2016 to go along with a sixth-place finish in 2014. The Warriors face either Davenport Assumption or Crestwood in either the semifinal or consolation semifinal.
"The outcome comes out how it does. We might not be happy about it but I will be content if we go out and do your job," Koedam said. "If we should be on the front side, what a motivator it would be to bring home the first place trophy. If we end up on the backside, just climb the podium as high as we can. The mission is the same. If it's fifth, that's great."