SERGEANT BLUFF -- For the last few years, Sergeant Bluff-Luton has established itself as the top wrestling program in the Missouri River Athletic Conference.
Back in 2016, the Warriors edged Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson for the tournament title by 12.5 points. That started a string of three straight MRAC titles for SB-L.
The fourth-straight MRAC title didn’t come as easily.
In the last two seasons, Bishop Heelan has been the closet team to challenge Sergeant Bluff-Luton. In 2017, the Crusaders finished in second but the Warriors easily claimed the title by 47 points.
Last season the Crusaders gave the Warriors a bit more of a challenge for the title as Heelan got within 20 points.
The Crusaders closed the gap with the Warriors for the third straight year. The MRAC title was still in doubt after the semifinal round with SB-L holding onto a 4.5-point advantage.
The Warriors grabbed a little bit more breathing room after the consolation matches with a 10.5-point lead but with nine Warriors going for an individual title and eight Crusaders in the finals, the title came down to the placing matches.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton took control in the placing matches. By the time the 160-pound title match came around, the Warriors had a 25.5-point lead.
Heelan was able to cut into SB-L’s lead but the Warriors had enough of a cushion. Sergeant Bluff-Luton scored 235 points, 9.5 more than Heelan as the Warriors captured their fourth-straight MRAC title.
“The whole season is about stages. Different events, different points. You never want to peak in January,” SB-L coach Clint Koedam said. “We talked to the guys about climbing the mountain. Postseason is near the top. The goal is to show growth each week. Conference titles are nice feathers to get in the hat. It’s not the defining moment of the season but it’s one of those rungs that we like to work toward during the year.”
Out of the nine wrestlers the Warriors put in the finals, five won titles - Braden Graff (113), Nate Curry (120), Jack Gaukel (132), Easton Graff (152) and Gabe Warren (195). Isaac Bryan (138), Blake Liebe (160), Tristan Navrkal (182) and A.J. Ellington (285) all finished as runners-up.
“I think it was nice that we had the tournament in our home gym. Nobody wants to lose at home and everybody wants to shine at home,” Koedam said. “Funny thing, the guys were on me about finals singlets because I’ve forgot every single tournament throughout the year. Fortunately we were at home so we ran over to the high school and got them.
“We had some kids who were runners-up and third place last year who made the finals and some of them won it. It’s a neat thing to be able to say they are the conference champ.”
But just as important were the third place matches. Four SB-L wrestlers finished in third place - Noah Parmelee (126), Cory Bates (145), Bradyn Barclay (170) and Dustin Stowe (220) - and the Warriors scored a good number of bonus points on the backside.
“Bonus points are always huge in tight events. I always the guys as a motivational piece, if they fall short of the finals and end up on the backside that coming back and getting pins and getting third is just as many points as second place,” Koedam said. “A lot of folks assume tournaments are won by the guys in the finals but in all honesty, it’s the backside matches that can be the difference maker.”
Heelan finished with same amount of champions as SB-L with five each. Two Heelan wrestlers finished in third place.
Heelan co-head coach Jordan Langley said it was that slight difference of a couple more placewinners and some bonus points that cost the Crusaders the MRAC title.
“The biggest thing were those backside matches. (SB-L) did a great job of getting bonus points on the backside. We did a good job wrestling on the backside but where we would get wins, they would get wins and bonus points,” Langley said. “In a tournament like this in a tight race, those pins on the backside, tech and majors, they make a difference at the end of the tournament.”
Brennan Todd (138), Luke Martin (160), Frank Vondrak (170), Colby Wilmesherr (182) and Kobe Clayborne all won titles for Heelan. Jacob McGowan (106), Mitchell Joines (132) and Nick McGowan (145) all finished as runners-up.
“We are finally back healthy and we have all of our guys back which is huge and we are doing a lot of good things. Last week winning our own tournament and getting second place here, props to Sergeant Bluff, they are a talented team,” Langley said. “I think we are there. I really think that dual score would be closer than 10 points and come postseason, we are going to be ready to go.”
Bryce Harpenau (113) finished in third place for Heelan as did Dawson Fenton (195).
“A lot of our underclassmen are starting to step up and realizing it takes 14 guys to win a tournament,” Langley said.
East finished in fourth place with 143 points. Sean Heeney finished as the runner-up at 120 pounds, Rafe McClendon was the runner-up at 126, Alex Kleider was the runner-up at 152, Dylan Harper was the runner-up at 170 and Patrick Conley was the runner-up at 220.
North finished in fifth place with 131 points. Logan Williams (106), Nick Walters (120), E.J. McElmeel (160), Andrew Ventura (182) and Jose Sarceno (285) all came in third place.
West finished in seventh place with 38 points. Riliegh Belt finished in third place at 152.