WILTON, Iowa − This season has been anything but easy for Gabe Hayes.
The Louisa-Muscatine sophomore missed the entire first semester, and once he returned he went through some growing pains. After wrestling at 220 as a freshman he jumped up to 285 this season, and that combined with the tough area competition in the weight class led to Hayes being at or below a .500 record almost the entire season.
“He was down on himself,” Louisa-Muscatine coach Tom Mashek said. “He had some doubts about whether he should be wrestling.”
Those doubts can officially be put to rest, as Hayes placed second in the district to qualify for the Class 1A state tournament. He’s joined by his teammate and district champion Hunter Connor, who put together a stellar 40-0 record in the 182-pound weight class this season.
Wilton qualified five of its 10 wrestlers for state in Kael Brisker (106), Cory Anderson (138), Trey Brisker (152) Cameron Reddick (182) and Calib Lilly (220) at districts in its own gym. Trey was the lone district champion, and the other four placed second. Wapello will send two wrestlers to the state tournament in Colton Meeker (106) and Daniel Meeker(120). Colton won the district title, while Daniel placed second.
Still, at least on paper, Hayes was the biggest surprise of them all.
The sophomore entered the Class 1A District 8 tournament with a 14-15 record before going 2-1 at districts and clinching a state berth by pinning West Branch’s Jacob Barnhart in 2 minutes, 38 seconds in a wrestleback.
“You go from weighing 220 to 265, that’s 45 pounds, that’s a lot to move compared to what you’re used to,” Hayes said. “So this feels great, it’s awesome.”
On the contrary, things couldn’t have been much easier for Connor. He was only on the mat for 58 seconds, which included a pin over Wilton’s John Rife in 22 seconds to win the district title.
“He’s like the terminator, it’s really incredible,” Mashek said. “You never see him sit back, and I don’t remember the last time somebody took a shot at him."
Wilton coach Gabriel Boorn said he was heartbroken for Rife, as well as fellow seniors Reid Johnson and Eli Faison, who all fell short of a state berth.
But there were plenty of positives for the Beavers.
“The five boys who made it have a lot to be proud of,” Boorn said. “Hopefully they can continue this into next weekend.”
Anderson was pinned in 5 minutes, 30 seconds to New London’s Javis Krieger, the same wrestler who beat him in sectionals last week. But Boorn felt his junior wrestled a much better match this time around and hopes to see Krieger a third time in the state tournament.
Although it wasn’t Brisker’s best day, he still was never threatened in the 152-pound weight class. The senior pinned his first opponent before winning the championship over Lisbon’s Kaden Kilburg in a 6-2 decision.
Cameron Reddick continued his stellar season in the 195-pound weight class as the senior picked up his 40th win in the semifinals and placed second.
Perhaps the most satisfying result for Boorn was that of Lilly at 220-pounds. The senior pinned New London’s Jaxon Allen in 4 minutes, 47 seconds in his wrestleback to qualify for state.
“That kid really found his stride in believing in himself in districts last year,” Boorn said. “We had ups and downs this season. He worked his butt off to keep correcting. He earned it, that kid earned it.”
The final Wilton qualifier was Kael Brisker, who fell to Wapello’s Colton Meeker by a 9-4 decision in the 106-pound championship. The Indians second qualifier, Daniel Meeker, had to earn it in a wrestleback but did so in convincing fashion by beating Louisa-Muscatine's Cody Calvelage in a 12-4 decision in the 120-pound weight class after trailing 4-0 early in the match.
Wapello nearly had a third qualifier in Mitchell Moore, but he ultimately fell to Belle Plaine’s Dakota Henry by pin in 2 minutes, 34 seconds. Mitchell controlled the match in the opening minutes and even held a 6-3 lead when he was caught and pinned.
Even so, the Indians were still pleased with their results.
“I think it’s a good day for us,” Wapello coach Rocky Hamilton said. “I think we have a kid who can place top three (at state) in 120 and another at 106 who can get on the podium, too.”