WEST LIBERTY, Iowa — Bryce Esmoil has a tough act to follow.
It’s difficult to imagine the West Liberty senior wrestler following up a junior season that ended with a state championship with an even better 2017-18.
But he’s adamant that there is still room for growth.
"There's always room for improvement, even after winning the state title last year," Esmoil said. "There are way better kids out there than just in Iowa. Iowa’s not my goal as of right now because I’ve already completed that goal. Now it’s bigger, better … after this year it’s on to college.
“This year I just need to focus on winning the state title, do what I can to make myself better.”
Esmoil’s coach, Jeff Wiele, feels the same way.
“I think that he definitely has room to improve,” Wiele said. “But at the same time, he’s very good. He’s very good about that too. I think that’s something that he knows, that he has to get better every day.”
Esmoil recorded history last February when he earned a 15-0 technical fall victory over Woodward-Granger's Cody Fisher in the 195-pound championship, becoming the first West Liberty wrestler since 2000 to win a state title.
He enters the new season ranked No. 16 in the country in his weight class by InterMat Wrestling.
This year, he and teammate Joe Kelly will have the opportunity to become the second and third four-time state place winners in Comet wrestling history.
“(Esmoil and Kelly) have both been captains since they were sophomores,” West Liberty coach Jeff Wiele said. “That says a lot about both of them. They’ve had huge impacts.”
The three keys to that success, according to Wiele, are work ethic, remaining coachable throughout all four years and the way they were raised.
“They don’t think that they already know everything,” Wiele said. “They’re great kids, so they listen to what we say and they take that and that makes them better. I also think that the parents have a lot to do with their success, the way that they were raised.”
Esmoil was born into a wrestling family.
His dad, uncles and several cousins all wrestled in high school, and he sees many of their names on the wall every day at school.
His parents even started taking Esmoil to wrestling events before his first birthday.
“I’ve been involved in wrestling ever since I came out of the womb,” Esmoil said. “I was going to wrestling tournaments (before) I was a year old watching my cousins and uncles, just anybody. My parents love watching wrestling so they’d go anywhere.”
Preparing to wrap up his own high school career, Esmoil highlighted a few points of emphasis he’ll be focusing on as he begins looking further down the road to when he joins the Northern Iowa wrestling program next fall.
“I need to improve on my feet from the neutral position, getting takedowns a little more (frequently), just getting after it and being more aggressive than last year,” Esmoil said.
That all starts, he believes, with getting the most out of each practice and each meet. It also means putting the right foods in his body and even having to pass up some of the “good stuff” a week ago on Thanksgiving.
The sport is demanding, making it crucial to also be able to fit in some rest in between tedious weeks that will at times include up to three meets.
“Like coach says, when you’ve been wrestling for a long time, like (this) week we have a meet on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday ... the week after that, I’ll probably take some time off," he said. "Take a day or two off, take practice still, but take your mind off of wrestling and get right back after it when the time calls. You need a break every once in a while.”