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WEST LIBERTY, IOWA – Austin Beaver wanted to send a message.

Matched up with Solon’s Andy Brokaw in Saturday’s championship match at the Ed Hadenfeldt Invitational, Beaver was dominant while pinning Brokaw in 57 seconds to win the title.

Message delivered loud and clear.

“That kid is in my sectionals and districts so I wanted to send a message,” Beaver said. “Pinning him that early really showed that I have confidence on the mat in what I can do.”

However, there’s evidence dating back to the beginning of the season that Beaver is confident in his abilities. For good reason, too.

The West Liberty senior is off to a 28-4 start after being ranked in the preseason, which Beaver admitted was ‘kind of new to me.’ But, he took little time to prove worthy of his ranking.

West Liberty traveled to the Keith Young Invitational for its first tournament of the season in December and Beaver was the No. 3 seed at 160 pounds. He easily dispatched his first three opponents to make a run to the finals, where he fell to Waverly-Shell Rock’s Jacob Hermann in a 3-2 decision. Hermann is currently the No. 3 ranked wrestler in The Predicament’s Class 3A rankings.

“He knew who was in the bracket and it didn’t faze him,” West Liberty coach Ian Alke said. “He got to the finals of a tournament where first he wasn’t even picked to make the finals and second I don’t think he really believed he’d make the finals.

“And then he comes down to the wire with one of the best kids in the state of Iowa.”

Beaver, who is ranked No. 9 by The Predicament in his weight class, admits that tournament was a confidence boost and he rode that confidence to an undefeated record for the rest of 2018.

“Going into Christmas break with one loss was pretty big for me,” Beaver said. “I just came into the season with the mentality of it’s my senior year and I have nothing to lose.”

Alke, who is in his first season as the head coach after spending four seasons as an assistant, said Beaver’s physicality and his defense have been instrumental in winning 88 percent of his matches so far. Beaver also credited his ankle pick and his ability to wrestle on top.

“Everyone laughs but I hit the ankle pick all the time,” Beaver said with a smile. “It’s a flashy move and I’m not a flashy guy. But every time I hit it I feel like the crowd likes it.”

However, Beaver has been just as instrumental off the mat as he has been on it for the West Liberty wrestling team.

The Comets returned five state qualifiers – Beaver, Coy Ruess, Will Esmoil, Kobe Simon and Talen Dengler –off last season’s team. But, with the loss of two-time state champion Bryce Esmoil as well as Joe Kelly, West Liberty was in need of a leader this season.

“At the beginning of the year we had a void as far as leadership,” Alke said. “We had that core of five guys but they’ve always been following (Joe) Kelly and (Bryce) Esmoil. Now one of those guys had to take over the program.

“A couple of guys weren’t ready yet. Austin was just a natural fit. He stepped up without hesitation and really embraced the leadership role.”

The Comets, led by Beaver, have shot out to a 16-2 start. Beaver and Alke said the success from the football season, where West Liberty went to the UNI-Dome for the first time since 1988, has carried over to the mat. The one downside, however, was the many West Liberty football players who also wrestle only got one day off between seasons.

Still, Alke says his team stepped up to the challenge at the first tournament and did well. And, as he put it, ‘Austin is Austin.’

Still, Beaver is a perfectionist and won’t be satisfied until he reaches his goals. After going 1-2 at the state wrestling tournament a year ago, Beaver is determined to wrestle his way to the podium this time around.

“With the way things have been going top five looks pretty good to me,” Beaver said. “I know I can beat good kids. I’m just working for that end goal.”

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