CLEAR LAKE — The conversation in the Clear Lake wrestling room at the beginning of the season always revolved around what the Lions could be, not what they were at that moment. They knew there was something special about the kids in the room, it just was going to take time to show people outside of it what they were made of.
Clear Lake made a statement in Saturday’s Class 2A sectional meet in its home gym as the Lions rolled to a sectional title and sent 10 wrestlers to next week’s district tournament. It’s the second time in school history the Lions will have double-digit wrestlers at districts.
Osage took third, but will send seven to districts.
“A sectional title is huge,” Clear Lake senior Jackson Hamlin. “Ever since Day 1, (Coach Mike) Lester has always said we’re looking toward sectionals. Conference is big and stuff like that, but it all matters now, so it was really cool. Lester was happy, and it’s awesome seeing him happy.”
There were many moments which stood out for Clear Lake on Saturday, but the best involved a little vengeance.
Six Lion wrestlers avenged early-season losses vs. their opponents Saturday, and all six are moving on because of it.
Freshman Sam Nelson defeated Osage’s Averee Abben by decision to win the 106 title, Conner Morey beat Iowa Falls-Alden’s Jack Ites in the semifinals and it helped him to second in the 113 bracket, Hamlin won his wrestleback vs. Iowa Falls-Alden’s Riley Burke, Braxton Doebel won the 145 bracket with a victory over Osage’s Spencer Mooberry, Rhys Glidden beat Mitchell Schotanus in the semifinals to help him to second in the 152 bracket, and Jake Keith topped Iowa Falls-Alden’s McKade Eisentrager to win at 285. All of the above got their revenge.
“I tell you what, it’s just a testament to these kids and how they battle and fight for each other because that’s what it was,” Lester said. “You look up and down the lineup how many matches we avenged today, it was phenomenal. The mindset was there for the kids, they all bought into the system and they wrestled as a team and it just worked out in our favor.”
Maybe nobody in that group was more excited than Jake Keith and Jackson Hamlin.
Keith held off Eisentrager for a 6-4 victory in the title match, and he celebrated by pounding his chest and jumping into the arms of teammates immediately after.
“For him, it’s amazing,” Lester said. “He’s been putting time in during the year, he had a couple lumps at the beginning of the year and last year. For him to keep fighting — you see how well he’s improved from the beginning of the year until now. He’s a different kid.”
Hamlin’s celebration was more relief than anything.
Forced to wrestle back to earn his spot at districts, Hamlin clinged to a small lead throughout, and held off numerous shots by Burke for a 3-2 victory.
“I’ve wrestled that kid twice — he beat me the first time and I got him the second time so I knew it was going to be a battle and I just had to keep going and going,” Hamlin said.
Also for the Lions, Eric Faught won at 126, Kade Hambly was the 195 champion, and Ben Finn and Dalton Mennenga each won wrestlebacks to take second place at their respective weights.
Clear Lake advances to the regional dual tournament at New Hampton on Tuesday.
“No matter what they do, we’re going to give them a run for it. We’ll give it a run no matter what,” Lester said.
For Osage, the day was about battling, and the Green Devils were rewarded with seven district qualifiers — Abben (106), Joe Sullivan (113), Joe Jacobs (120), Brody Roll (132), Spencer Mooberry (152), Zach Williams (160) and Colin Muller (170). Sullivan, Jacobs, Roll, Williams and Williams each won titles.
“I’m OK with it,” Osage coach Brent Jennings said of the Green Devils’ day. “We didn’t wrestle our best at some weights, but some kids looked pretty good. A lot of flu bug going around in the last couple weeks and we’ve been hit by it, but I’m just glad I’ve got everybody here wrestling.
“It’s been a challenging couple weeks just to try to keep kids healthy and keep them in the room.”
The standout performer for the Green Devils continues to be Williams. The 160-pound sophomore added another milestone to his career Saturday after winning a conference title last week, and next week, he’ll try for his second straight trip to state.
On Saturday, he pinned Clear Lake’s Ben Finn in 5 minutes, 27 seconds to secure his sectional title.
“He’s only got one loss at 160 right now and that was to a Minnesota kid who was a national Fargo runner-up last year,” Jennings said. “For a sophomore to have the mindset that he has, he’s been outstanding. He’s very coachable, fun to coach, does what he tells him to do and it makes a difference.”
Williams is more excited about the growth of the Green Devils, though.
“I think it’s huge for us getting back because we’ve been down the past couple of years, so I think it’s huge getting back up to where Osage has been,” he said.
Maybe the best story, though, for the Green Devils is Colin Muller.
He started the year as the backup at 152 pounds, but he put in the work to make himself a solid 170-pounder, and he was rewarded Saturday with a sectional title.
Up next is the district tournament at Aplington-Parkersburg next Saturday.
“It’s going to be a tough district, but I still think we can get most of our kids through, if not all. I think we have a good shot,” Jennings said.
Coming Tuesday: GHV’s Jared Shaw was a basketball player last year. Saturday, he took a huge step in his wrestling career with a sectional title.