DES MOINES — Will Esmoil walked away from wrestling for about a week in early December. He nearly didn't come back.
“At one point, I was like I’m totally done,” he said. “My mom and dad talked to me. As the week went on, it got a little better and I decided to come back.”
It turned out to be a wise decision.
The West Liberty junior earned a spot in the Class 2A 145-pound final with a 5-0 win over third-seeded Jack West of Winterset on Friday night in a state semifinal at Wells Fargo Arena.
“It is pretty crazy,” Esmoil said. “I’m just one step closer to following what my brother did.”
Bryce, now at the University of Northern Iowa, captured two state championships with the Comets. He sent Will a text message before Friday’s quarterfinals.
“He just told me to stay on the kid, keep going and I’ll break him,” Will said.
Esmoil came in seeded seventh. He beat second-seeded Chase Luensman of Monticello in the quarterfinals, 4-3. It was just Luensman’s second loss of the season, both to Esmoil.
Then in the semifinals, Esmoil got a first-period takedown near the edge of the mat, rode West out the entire second period and added another takedown in the third to secure it.
“The early takedown was the key to the match,” Esmoil said. “You get that first takedown, you’re probably going to win, and I feel I can ride people.”
After a lengthy football season, one in which West Liberty made the state semifinals, Esmoil felt he didn’t have the same fervor for wrestling at the start of the winter.
Coaches and family gave him some advice.
“They just said to have fun,” Esmoil said. “It is not about the outcome, but go out there and have fun. Look at this place, it’s awesome.”
Esmoil wrestles Humboldt’s Joey Busse (46-0) in Saturday’s final.
“My coaches have been telling me I’m wrestling the best they’ve ever seen me,” Esmoil said. “I’m feeling good, feeling confident. I’m looking forward to (Saturday).”
Wapello’s Daniel Meeker (126) and Columbus Community’s Jarod Kadel (138) saw their championship aspirations end in the semifinals.
Meeker hung tough for a period.
Lisbon freshman Robert Avila Jr. executed a whipover for a five-point move in the second period and eventually pinned the Wapello junior in 3 minutes, 47 seconds in a 1A semifinal bout.
“I was wrestling (well), but once he got that arm caught across my body which turned my hips, he kept driving me into it,” Meeker said. “I tried to fight it as far as I could to get out of bounds, but I didn’t quite make it there.”
Meeker made the state championship last season as a sophomore. He knew getting back there would be difficult with Avila on his side of the bracket. Avila beat Meeker by technical fall earlier this season in a weekend tournament.
“He wasn’t overly strong, but he knew how to use his upper body,” Meeker said.
Meeker (34-5) can salvage third place with a pair of wins Saturday in the consolation round.
“Wrestling is a crazy mental sport,” he said. “Right after everything happens, you’ve got to put it aside and get ready for the next match.
“There is no such thing as a time machine, so you can’t go back and change it. I’ve got to push it aside and go for the next best thing, and that’s third place. I strongly believe I’m top two or top three in this bracket.”
Kadel recorded a 3-1 win in the quarterfinals against Iowa Falls/Alden’s Riley Burke, but lost 7-4 in the semifinals to Atlantic’s Chase McLaren.
After getting three near fall points early in the third, McLaren finished it off with a takedown in the final minute to hand Kadel his first loss of the season in 42 matches. He can finish third place with two victories today.
Wilton’s Kael Brisker lost in the opening round, but has responded with three consolation victories at 106 in 1A. Brisker majored Akron-Westfield’s Jader Briggs in Friday night’s session. He can get third with two wins today.
In addition to Esmoil, West Liberty will have three other wrestlers on the awards stand in Coy Ruess (152), Austin Beaver (160) and Kobe Simon (220).
Simon is still in the hunt for third place while Ruess and Beaver wrestle for seventh today.
Louisa-Muscatine’s Cody Calvelage saw his season end in the wrestlebacks with a loss to Solon’s Zeb Gnida.