LAKE MILLS — Coach Alex Brandenburg and Lake Mills set out to turn the Bulldogs into a powerful dual team a few years ago, and they're continuing to reap those rewards.
The Bulldogs punched their tickets to a third straight state duals tournament Tuesday night as they cruised to wins over North Butler-Clarksville and South Winneshiek.
“I thought this was by far the best regional dual we’ve wrestled,” Brandenburg said. “Two of the pins for sure we were underdogs, and 145 we were probably an underdog, too. You could tell the kids wanted it. The crowd got behind them and it was pretty amazing; it couldn’t have gone any better.”
In front of a large home crown Tuesday night, the Bulldogs dominated.
After rolling over North Butler Clarksville 49-13, Lake Mills looked even better in the championship round. The Bulldogs piled up seven pins in a 51-18 win, and none were bigger than one by senior Drae Love at 152 pounds.
Love, a kid who had missed the past two seasons with a back injury, thus was unable to wrestling on those other state dual teams, ignited both the Lake Mills crowd and his team Tuesday night with a come-from-behind win at 152.
He entered the third period with a 4-2 deficit, and starting from the top position, Love found the strength and stamina to work South Winn’s Tollefsrud to his back and score a pin with eight second remaining in the match.
“It means a lot to me. I’ve been working the past two years to be able to come back to the team,” Love said.
His pin received the loudest of the roars from the crowd on this night, but he wasn’t the only one in a pinning mood.
Casey Hanson kicked off the dual with a pin in 3:43 at 132, Cole Bergo had a pin at 170 pounds, Drake Tarnish pinned his man at 182, Gabe Irons followed with one of his own at 195, and then Caiden Jones and Tyler Helgeson had back-to-back pins at 113 and 120 to seal the win.
The Bulldogs also received an important win from Ashton Love at 145 as he held on for a 13-11 decision.
After the win, Brandenburg chalked up the big night for the Bulldogs to experience, simply.
“I think it’s big, especially you’re in this environment,” the coach said. “I told the kids in the locker room, ‘You guys have been here before; you know what you have to do. Be aggressive but be smart.’ We just knew we couldn’t make mistakes. We had to wrestle close matches and make sure we didn’t go to our back.”
Lake Mills opens the Class 1A state dual tournament Wednesday, Feb. 14, as the fifth seed and will meet up with Missouri Valley in the quarterfinals.
Getting back to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines is now checked off the list. Doing something about it when they are there is next up.
“It just shows us how much our program is improving, and it’s wonderful we’ll be pretty good for years to come, I hope,” Drae Love said.