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One of the biggest events in Iowa High School athletics gets underway Thursday when the traditional state wrestling tournament begins at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The area will be well-represented, as 17 wrestlers in the Muscatine Journal circulation area qualified for the state tournament.

Here are the most important storylines to watch as area wrestlers pursue state titles in the coming days.

New faces

Seven wrestlers will be making their state tournament debut in Wapello’s Mitchell Moore and Christopher Ewart, Louisa-Muscatine’s Cody Calvelage, Wilton’s Coy Baker, Muscatine’s Tim Nimely and Brennan Broders and West Liberty’s Alex Beaver.

Four of those wrestlers — Moore, Nimely Baker and Ewart — won district titles to advance to the state tournament.

“It’s going to be magical,” Moore said on Saturday when asked about the state tournament. “It’s going to mean the world to me.”

The other four were district runner-ups, with Broders and Beaver claiming wrestleback victories to qualify. For Calvelage, Louisa-Muscatine wrestling coach Tom Mashek opted to move his senior to the 132-pound weight class before sectionals to have a better chance to get out of districts.

It worked, and now the Falcon wrestler will get to experience the state tournament for the first time after spending the last two seasons in the same district as the eventual top two state place-winners.

“It’d be a huge relief,” Calvelage said in January of getting to the state tournament. “I’m just ready to be there and experience the atmosphere.”

Same old Comets

Outside of Alex Beaver, every West Liberty wrestler has been in this position before. Will Esmoil, Austin Beaver, Coy Ruess and Kobe Simon are all returning qualifiers from a year ago. However, those four won a combined three matches and none of them placed a season ago.

All four will look to improve on those results.

Esmoil and Austin Beaver are the only two West Liberty wrestlers seeded inside the top seven of this year’s tournament. Esmoil, a 145-pounder, has wrestled as well as anybody in the state as of late but was given the No. 7 seed in the Class 2A bracket.

Esmoil is 33-2 and ranked No. 3 in The Predicament’s wrestling rankings. He dropped his semifinal and third-place matches at the Keith Young Invitational Dec. 1 but has rattled off 27 consecutive wins, including a win over then-No. 1 Chase Luensman at the River Valley Conference Tournament.

Coincidentally, the last high school matches Will’s older brother and former West Liberty standout Bryce Esmoil ever lost came on Dec. 3, 2016, at the Keith Young Invitational in the semifinal and third-place matches.

Will the area have a state champion?

Trey Brisker and Bryce Esmoil each won the state title last season but the Wilton and West Liberty standouts have since moved on to college wrestling. So, with both standouts gone, will a wrestler find his way to the top of the podium come Saturday?

On paper, it appears Columbus’ Jarod Kadel and Wapello’s Daniel Meeker have the best shot. Don’t count out Will Esmoil, Wilton’s Kael Brisker and Muscatine’s Dalton Sell, though.

Meeker and Kadel have come close before, as both were runner-ups a year ago. Kadel has lost in the 106-pound title match the last two seasons, including a 1-0 loss to Centerville’s Matthew Lewis last year when he was called for stalling with one second remaining in sudden overtime.

“It is motivation,” Kadel told the Journal after the match. “I got to use it and keep progressing.”

The senior hopes the third time’s the charm, as he enters the Class 2A 138-pound bracket as the No. 1 overall seed with an imposing 39-0 record.

Meeker enters the Class 1A 126-pound bracket as the No. 2 seed with a 32-4 record. The junior standout doesn’t have a loss to his name since Dec. 15. He made a Cinderella run of sorts to the finals a season ago, defeating the No. 3-ranked wrestler in the state before falling in the finals.

He won’t catch anybody off guard this time around, as Wapello coach Rocky Hamilton said Meeker is looking “as tough as he’s ever been,” after Saturday’s district tournament.

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