CLARENCE, Iowa — Will Esmoil jumped up from the mat, turned to the West Liberty crowd and extended both arms above his head in celebration. Once his adrenaline wore off, it was a clear chore to have his arm raised by the official as he was crowned a River Valley Conference champion at 145 pounds.
“At the end, I was kind of like ‘Dang, I could go again,’” Esmoil joked. “But that was just adrenaline. I was tired. We didn’t do any conditioning last week so that was hard.”
Esmoil was one of two West Liberty wrestlers to place first at Saturday’s RVC Tournament, as he and Coy Ruess’ gold medals led the Comets to their fifth consecutive team title with 215 points. Wilton, meanwhile, placed third with 140 points.
“It’s never been done before,” West Liberty coach Ian Alke said of the five-peat. “That’s something in West Liberty that’s a big accomplishment. I’m lucky to have a great group of kids who work hard.
“Some of them wrestled the best they’ve ever wrestled today.”
Esmoil was one that fit that category according to Alke. The junior rolled to the title match on the strength of two pins, including one in 3 minutes, 32 seconds against Wilton’s Cory Anderson. Then, Esmoil upset Monticello’s Chase Luensman by a 7-5 decision in the title match. Luensman entered the match as The Predicament’s No. 1 ranked wrestler at 145 pounds with a 38-1 record.
Esmoil, now a three-time RVC champion, won last year’s meeting at the conference tournament in a major decision. That gave him confidence that he could come out on top once again Saturday.
“I knew I was capable,” Esmoil said. “My coaches told me to just relax and do you. My shots, my defense and everything. It turned out good.”
The championship match between Esmoil — the fifth-ranked wrestler on The Predicament — and Luensman was a constant scramble, lending itself to the rowdy crowd at North Cedar High School. However, it was Esmoil who jumped out to a 6-3 lead through two periods.
Esmoil got defensive in the third and Luensman began to rally, closing the gap to 7-5 with 38 seconds remaining.
“I just had to hand fight, stay in there and block his shots,” Esmoil said. “I don’t know, I could have shot more.”
Still, it was good enough, as Esmoil defended against Luensman’s shots in the waning moments to hang on.
In the next match, Ruess scored the final three points of the match to beat Camanche’s Cade Everson 4-2 in the 152-pound match for his third RVC title.
“Talk about a kid that works his tail off,” Alke said of Ruess. “He would run through a wall if you asked him to. He does everything the right way and is a good kid. I’m just so happy that it’s paying off in the postseason already.”
West Liberty had four other wrestlers make the finals in Austin Beaver (160), Alex Beaver (106), Talen Dengler (132) and Kobe Simon (220). Simon lost by decision while Dengler lost by major decision.
Austin Beaver was pinned in one minute by Camanche’s Baylor Crigger and Alex Beaver lost to Wilton’s Kael Brisker by a 10-5 decision.
“Both of those kids they’ve wrestled before,” Alke said. “The goal is always to close the gap if not beat them. They both did that more or less.”
Wilton was led by Brisker’s first-place finish. The sophomore received two byes and won his final two matches in routine fashion to improve to 41-1 on the season. Trey Sulzberger (138) and Coy Baker (182) both placed second for the Beavers.
Sulzberger lost in a 7-1 decision to North Cedar’s Brody Hawtrey while Baker lost in an 11-5 decision to Iowa City Regina’s Nick Milder, who is a four-time RVC champion.
Calib Lily placed third for the Beavers at 220 pounds and Blake Conklin (126) and Anderson (145) placed fourth.
The Durant Wildcats placed 14th as a team led by Ethan Gast. The 113-pounder placed third with a 4-1 decision over West Branch’s Quinn Hayden.
Marathon tournament provides challenges: Since North Cedar only has one gym there were only two mats for the entire tournament. As a result, the tournament lasted more than 10 hours while all of the finalists had anywhere from a five to six-hour gap between semifinal and finals matches.
“I took a nap in the bleachers, woke up like ‘Is it ready?’” Esmoil said. “They were still wrestling for fifth and seventh. With the six hours, you have to get loose again.”
The tournament comes after a week where none of the three area teams had many practices or conditioning due to school being canceled by winter weather. Alke said the nine-day gap between tournaments is the longest he can remember and hopes to avoid any 10-hour conference tournaments in the future.
“We’ll talk to the AD's and we’ll ask specifically in the future that we got a host that can fit three mats,” Alke said. “If not that then a neutral site that can fit at least three mats or has two gyms.”