Devon Meeker was on his way to a good start for the Wapello wrestling team this season.
All he needed was some confidence, and it didn't take long for him to get that inspiration: A win over state-ranked 106-pounder Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont's Tyler Landgrebe got the ball rolling.
The Wapello junior grappler said Indians coach Rocky Hamilton helped build that confidence, but Hamilton thinks that first big win brought it all together.
Meeker's started the season 10-0 with seven pinfalls and two titles in the 106-pound weight class, including a championship win over Washington's Garrett Ikerd at last Saturday's Mediapolis Invitational.
"Before, his confidence wavered against really good kids," Hamilton said. "Now he's getting to the point where he thinks he's good enough to win and goes out expecting to win. ... Beating someone ranked shows he's a force to be reckoned with."
At the end of last season, Meeker was third in the 113-pound bracket at a Class 1A district tournament in Wilton, a spot short of the state tournament in a loaded field that included state qualifiers Drew West from Highland and Tipton's Eric Lenz.
"That beat me up a little bit, but I figured I was only a sophomore," Meeker said. "I thought, oh well, I'll go work harder and try to come back better next year."
Before Meeker could focus on building his confidence, he had to build up the strength to be successful at his weight class.
Last season, though Meeker was undersized for even the 106-pound weight class, he had to wrestle at 113 with Wapello senior and state qualifier Hunter Walker at 106.
Meeker put in his time in the weight room to be ready to compete at 106, though he has wrestled up to 113 a few times this season.
"He was 97 pounds as a freshman and about 100 pounds last year," Hamilton said. "It took a few years to grow into his weight. ... He's always been good, but just undersized."
When he wasn't working on his weight, Meeker had some workouts in offseason wrestling practices, which included grappling at DC Elite Wrestling in Mount Pleasant.
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Meeker said Hamilton gave him the initial confidence boost heading into the season that he could make a leap as part of a strong junior class for the Indians, which includes Devon's cousin, Clayton Meeker.
"Our junior class in general is really close-knit, and that helps more than anything," Hamilton added. "And even though they're the same age, I think he looks up to Clayton a bit."
Hamilton said it also helps Devon to have other familiar Meeker faces in the Wapello wrestling room with Devon's younger brother Colton coming into the program as a freshman. Additionally, Devon's uncle Doug Meeker, who coached Devon in the Wapello youth program, leads the junior high program and stops in to help out in the room from time to time.
When it came time for Wapello's first action of the season on December 1st, Devon got an early test facing off across the mat from Landgrebe, ranked No. 10 at 106 pounds in Class 1A by The Predicament.
Meeker got a takedown and three back points in each of the first two rounds against Landgrebe and scored a pinfall with eight seconds left in the second period.
"After the match, I wanted to go higher and beat more (ranked) people like that," Meeker said. "Beating him, I went from, 'I think I'm pretty good' to 'OK, I'm good.'"
The rest of the juniors on Wapello's team — Cobi Cline, Timo Caro, AJ Ponce, Rogan Pforts and Clayton — are off to strong starts, which have Devon and Hamilton hopeful for a strong team finish by season's end.
They'll have to go through a tough district that features tough competition from teams like Highland, Tipton, Lisbon, West Branch and Wilton.
"Our whole junior class is pretty tough," Hamilton said, "but our district is probably one of the toughest 1A districts in the state, and unless they upset some returning state finalists they'll be sitting at home, but they'll work hard and see what happens."
As the season continues, Meeker hopes to work on refining how he takes his shots while remaining confident in what he can do once he gets his opponent to the ground, and all the while keeping in the back of his mind that each addition to his undefeated record makes the target on his back that much bigger.
"I know that people are going to come for me and try to beat me, and I've got to be ready for that," Meeker said, "but it feels pretty good knowing that I'm undefeated so far."