ATLANTIC, Iowa — Darrian Schwenke says he's working on his shot. This requires a follow-up question.
The Atlantic senior could be talking about video games. A virtuoso at first-person shooters like “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” he has traveled to participate in international competitions. He and four online friends finished 19th worldwide at a Major League Gaming tournament in Orlando in 2011.
Schwenke might be referring to his passion for airsofting. It's a hobby similar to paintball, except projectiles are plastic balls and the guns look and act more realistic. One wall in his basement is covered with the weaponry, which he has taken to daylong “operations” in Illinois with his father, Dean, or used on their multi-acre homemade course near Atlantic.
But anyone who knows the soft-spoken 126-pounder knows Schwenke, during wrestling season, is tinkering with his moves on a mat. Everything else takes a backseat.
“All four years I wanted to be a state champ, and this is getting down to the final year,” Schwenke said. “I'm working extra hard this year and putting everything into every single match that I wrestle. This year, it's all for everything.”
Ranked No. 3 at his weight in Iowa Class 2-A by The Predicament, Schwenke has seen his efforts pay off so far. He owns a 26-1 record, three black eyes and wins over a slew of ranked foes. At his school's Rollin Dyer Invite last weekend, he beat 2-A No. 4 Caleb Coleman of Bondurant-Farrar 6-4 in the final to help the Trojans squeeze out a one-point tourney title over Glenwood.
With Schwenke's final prep season has come an urgency to literally and figuratively take his best shot. His lone loss — a 10-6 setback to 2-A No. 1 Shadow Leshen of Albia on Jan. 4 — had him spending extra time in Atlantic's wrestling room, working to better finish his maneuvers.
“I just work on perfecting everything in practice,” Schwenke said. “If I have to start out slow on something and work up to being fast, that's what I do.
“I always say technique will beat out muscle and brute force. But when you have a combination of both, it's pretty unstoppable.”
A deep postseason run could be in the making as long as Schwenke avoids the injury problems that have haunted him for two years. He finished fourth at 103 pounds as a freshman at the state tournament, but settled for eighth the next season after aggravating a fractured left ankle and injury-defaulting his last two matches in Des Moines.
Schwenke was highly rated and off to an 18-0 start a year ago before tearing two ligaments and fracturing his right ankle at a weekend meet in January. The pain was too much to even try competing in sectionals.
“He's back this year and looking better than he ever has,” Atlantic coach Tim Duff said. “Hopefully that will continue as we move closer to the postseason.”
Although Schwenke has been more aggressive in his last prep campaign, he isn't all killer instinct. He grew up with the nickname “Bunny,” from when he caught a furry critter as a child. It still sticks, though Schwenke says some friends now simply call him “B.”
Duff recalled last weekend when Schwenke was battling Bondurant-Farrar's Coleman for the meet title. At a break in the action, the standout struck up a conversation with his opponent.
“Darrian was telling him that he was a really good wrestler,” Duff said. “That's Darrian. He's a nice kid. He likes competition, but he's pretty polite, too.”
The son of Dean and Donna Schwenke picked up career win No. 100 in his first match of the season when he pinned 1-A No. 6 Brad Kerkhoff of Audubon. While wading through college options, he has helped Atlantic finish runner-up at four dual tournaments.
Darrian Schwenke also has no shortage of workout partners. Fellow senior Dillon Cox (No. 10 at 120 pounds) has been a longtime practice nemesis. Another is older brother and 2011 Atlantic grad Brad Schwenke, who came on as a volunteer coach this year.
“You get a group of good individuals working together and it just makes everybody elevate their level of competition,” Duff said. “Everyone wants to push and strive to be the guy and keep up.”
Growing up, the Schwenke brothers wrestled on a small mat in their basement. They still tangle on occasion, though now there's a full-sized mat in the family's heated barn next to their home north of Atlantic.
It was on the advice of cousin Clarke Gerlock — a state champ for CAM at 189 pounds in 2003 — that Darrian Schwenke gave wrestling a try in kindergarten. He won his first tournament and later claimed a pair of AAU state titles in elementary school.
After his freshman year, Schwenke began traveling to summer and offseason weekend workouts with Al Garrison, a Waukee assistant, who passed away last year at age 57. Schwenke said Garrison was invaluable to him and other committed wrestlers. They would spend hours on a particular move until it was just right.
With sectionals on Feb. 8, Schwenke is aiming to make his final shot the best one.
“I'm just on a mission this year to win a title for myself and win it for (Garrison),” Schwenke said. “I want to go out on the mat and know I have to be confident from everything he and Coach Duff have taught me.”