SERGEANT BLUFF | The biggest piece of adversity had to be overcome before a single Bishop Heelan wrestler walked onto the mat in the championship round.
Senior 220-pound wrestler Diego Samaniego collapsed after his semifinal match while in a hallway during the Class 2A wrestling sectional here Saturday. Medical personnel attested to the Crusader, but his teammates had to wrestle the final round with one of their leaders on their mind.
"He has been cleared by the doctor but it is tough because he is a senior and that is not how you want to end your season," Heelan co-head coach Matt Pugh said. "Our guys had a lot of heart today. I think our guys had a little more heart today and worked all the way through it."
The Crusaders responded in impressive fashion crowning five champions and sending eight wrestlers to next week's district tournament in Sioux Center.
It was a gutty performance typified by senior Isiah Gilmore who won the 170-pound bracket.
"It was definitely hard (to focus) because Samaniego is my practice partner," Heelan senior Gilmore said. "He is tough and he will get through it and if any of us need to be there for him, we will be there for him."
Heelan would win the section title over host Sergeant Bluff-Luton 243-222 as both teams will advance to Tuesday's regional dual tournament.
"It is just our guys grinding through it and we have had to grind all year," Pugh said."I think our guys will be ready to go Tuesday night because we got left short last year (with a semifinal loss)."
Heelan beat the Warriors in the dual between the two teams earlier this season while SB-L clipped the Crusaders for the MRAC tournament crown last week.
"Top two is always really nice because you do get that chance to go on to regionals, but it is always a mixed bag when you are competing with another quality team," SB-L coach Clint Koedam said. "Maybe we will get a chance to see each other again Tuesday."
As has been the case all season, it was the upper weights that propelled the Crusaders. Frank Vondrak began a string of five championship match wins in a seven-match stretch. It started with a big third-period rally to down Noah Fleming by pin in the semifinals before pinning Sioux Center's Roberto Cardenas in 4:06 for the title.
"My coaches believed in my conditioning and believed in me on my feet," said Vondrak of the comeback. "They just told me to take him down and let him up. My conditioning showed through, my toughness showed through.It feels really good knowing you broke your opponent."
Luke Martin held off SB-L's Alex Freiberg in the semifinals at 160 before pinning Sioux Center's Jesse Jara for the title in 1:20.
"(Freiberg) is a tough opponent and I know that, but once I step on the mat I am ready to go," Martin said. "I just go to my basics and go to my bread and butter. This makes me confident going into districts."
Gilmore used two pins to win at 170.
"I have never made it out of the sectional tournament, ever," he said. "This year the coaches really turned it on. It is a good individual victory for me.
"I have been through four coaches in school and these are the best. They push us on and off the mat."
No. 9 Shyler Langley dispatched No. 8 Blake Anderson of OA-BCIG 8-5 for the title at 195, and No. 8 Kobe Clayborne pinned his way to the title at 285.
"I am always going out there looking for the pin ... it is nice to get it done fast," Clayborne said. "I haven't wrestled a full season since sixth grade and having my brother and my dad -- they were both great wrestlers -- and they have been helping me a lot.
"When I first stepped on the mat I was not in shape and I just got in shape, and then my technique started coming back and I felt good on my feet."
Also advancing for the Crusaders were Mitchell Joines at 126, Brennan Todd at 138 and Caleb Engel at 182 as runners-up.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton crowned four champions in a row beginning with No. 6 Jack Gaukel's 4-2 win over No. 8 Kurtis Krager of OA-BCIG at 120.
"I was in the situation and didn't know if he got the two or not so I figured I would finish the takedown or get the reversal," said Gaukel of the winning points. "I just needed to score those points to build my lead. He knows what I am going to do and I know what he is going to do, so it is going to be a battle."
Isaac Bryan blanked Joines 4-0 to win at 126 while Ethan Kempema picked up the section title at 132 over Heelan's Ethan Emmick 2-1.
"I have had to hit the weightroom more because kids are bigger and stronger in high school," the freshman Bryan said. "This feels really good first sectional championship."
No. 3 Easton Graff held off No. 7 Todd 3-1 at 138.
The Warriors saw Jherek Dillavou (106), Nate Curry (113), Freiberg (160) and Bradyn Barclay (170) all finish in second place to advance.
The Falcons are sending five wrestlers to next week's district led by champions Jake Nieman (113) and Tyler Anderson (220).
"It is just staying mentally prepared and knowing that I have to stay confident in my ability," said Nieman of his win over Curry after the two faced off just a couple weeks ago. "I just made sure that I rode him hard and tried to turn him whenever I could."
MOC-Floyd Valley's Johnny Hua was the champion at 106 and No. 10 Conner Huss won at 182.
"I just have to wrestle my stuff, wrestle my pace, and be in control of the match more," said Huss after going to overtime to win at 182. "I found it in myself to finish the match and use my conditioning. I really wanted first seed coming out of this week."
Sioux Center advanced three wrestlers and Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley will send two, including champion Austin Rozeboom at 145.