LAKE MILLS — A strong dual tradition doesn’t just pop out of thin air. It’s something that has to be worked on for years, and Lake Mills and coach Alex Brandenburg have put in the work to put the Bulldogs on the map.
They’ve made their mark with two straight appearances at the state duals tournament, which included a third-place finish last year. Lake Mills, ranked fifth in Class 1A, is in prime position to make a little noise again this year as well. The Bulldogs kept that rolling Thursday night in a pair of runaway wins vs. Newman Catholic and Clear Lake.
“We just keep plugging away,” Lake Mills coach Alex Brandenburg said. “We feel confident in what we’re doing and things are kind of taking care of themselves now. The first few years we had to work really hard to get numbers out and get it rolling. We only started with a dozen Lake Mills kids and this is our highest we’ve ever had — we have 32.
“If you keep numbers and keep a good attitude, you can always have solid teams. But I feel the atmosphere around the wrestling program is really good for such a hard sport.”
It’s an old sports cliché that success breeds success, but there’s no better way to describe why Lake Mills has been so good as of late.
Yes, they’ve had the big-name wrestlers, but the Bulldogs have also gotten a lot out everybody on the roster. It doesn’t matter who you are in Lake Mills, if you want to win, the Bulldogs want to foster that as much as they can.
“We stress the team concept so much,” Brandenburg said. “From our kids like Slade Sifuentes, who didn’t lose a match his last two years, to maybe our kid who wins maybe three or four JV matches, we want every kid to wrestle because you get a lot out of wrestling. … The team concept is huge for us. It’s always the team, and we feel our quality is making our individuals solid now, too.”
The Bulldogs have three wrestlers currently ranked in The Predicament’s Class 1A rankings — Caiden Jones at 113, Tyler Helgeson at 120 and Gabe Irons at 195. Jones is the second-ranked wrestler at his weight. It’s a lineup-wide drive that carries them, though. Lake Mills has eight wrestlers with 30 or more wins — Jones, Helgeson, Irons, Alex Martinson, Casey Hanson, Elijah Wagner, Cole Bergo and Drake Harnish.
Having all 14 wrestlers find success is something they’re most proud of.
“It’s nice to know that you’re part of a team like that that’s strong at every weight,” Jones said. “You can pretty much depend on the job getting done from those guys.”
Lake Mills wrapped up its regular season Thursday night with wins over Newman (62-12) and Clear Lake (40-31). The Bulldogs had six pins vs. the Knights, and held off a tough Clear Lake team to close out the night.
They head into Saturday’s Top of Iowa Conference meet with a head of steam, but a lot left they still want to accomplish.
“Last year we dominated the conference pretty much, so we’re going to look to do that again, and hopefully dominate regionals and go to the state tournament,” Jones said.
In the evening’s other dual, Clear Lake defeated Newman 67-9 with the help of seven pins. For the night, The Lions’ Sam Nelson, Eric Faught, Rhys Glidden, Ben Finn and Jake Keith were each 2-0. Faught, Finn and Keith had two pins apiece.
What Clear Lake coach Mike Lester was most pleased to see was the progress the Lions had made from their first meeting with Lake Mills (a 51-19 loss) in the first week to right now, especially with sectionals around the corner.
“It was a good example of how well we’ve improved,” Lester said. “They put it on us (the first time) and the kids weren’t excited about that, of course, and it showed as we worked through the year. The excitement, I just told them, as we roll into sectionals we couldn’t be looking any better.”
For Newman, Chase McCleish was the only Knight to finish 2-0 on the night.
Newman is back in action Saturday at the TIC meet while Clear Lake is off until its 2A sectional a week from Saturday.