AUDUBON, Iowa — David Howell felt duped.
The East Mills heavyweight thought his team would need its best performance just to contend for its Iowa Class 1-A sectional Saturday. A top-two finish — and accompanying spot in Tuesday’s regional duals — was far from a sure thing.
Instead, the Wolverines led the way with seven district qualifiers while claiming the first sectional title in the seven-year history of the East Mills program. Their 216 team points beat out Audubon (205) and Riverside (204) in the seven-school event at Audubon High School.
“Coach (Claude Lang) told us that he thought Audubon was going to win and it would be a toss-up for second place,” Howell said. “I don’t know if he lied to us or if things just kind of worked out in our favor.”
Individual champs Alec Moorman (120 pounds), Lane Stortenbecker (138), Josh Hopkins (152) and Howell all lived up to their top seeds. But East Mills got surprise runner-up outings from freshman Chandler Foss (113), junior Colton Story (182) and sophomore Nick Perkins (195).
Foss wasn’t sure he would be able to compete while battling flu-like symptoms. He and Story finished second, and Perkins also lost in the finals but was able to wrestle back and advance.
“We ended up wrestling the best,” Lang said. “Maybe I undersold it a little bit to the guys (before the meet), but it kept us on an even keel.”
All district qualifiers at Audubon face winners from the West Monona sectional next Saturday at noon at Underwood High School. Top-two finishers there advance to state.
East Mills will take its 27-5 dual record into a regional tilt Tuesday at 6 p.m., with location and opponent to be determined. Two wins in the four-team clash would put the Wolverines into next week’s state dual tournament in Des Moines for the first time in school history.
Last year’s Wolverines were the first to advance to the regional round after taking second at their sectional. The current group did one better, winning the third-ever tournament for the school after claiming meet titles at Tri-Center and Treynor this season as well.
“They’re committed,” Lang said. “They put in the time and have like 80 percent weight room attendance in the summer. It starts to show and they start to be successful.”
Audubon sent five to districts — all champions — to squeak past Riverside for the second regional-dual spot. Kyle Juelsgaard (113), Brad Kerkhoff (126), Jake Mulford (132), Trevor Smith (145) and Matt Fett (220) each finished atop the podium.
The Wheelers won their sectional last winter en route to their first-ever appearance at state duals. Kerkhoff, a junior and two-time state qualifier, said he’s happy Audubon still has a chance to get back.
“All our champs wrestled their best and that’s what we needed,” Kerkhoff said. “We got our regular lineup and had everybody ready, but things just don’t work out (for first place).”
Riverside advances six to districts in Tatem Bluml (106), Ethan Rankin (120), Tucker Bluml (132), Zane Loring (138), Payton Housman (170) and Garrett Graves (220). Tatem Bluml and Housman won their weights.
Tucker Bluml and Graves kept their seasons going with wrestleback victories. Bluml rolled his ankle during the final bout, but converted a takedown midway through the 1-minute overtime period to top A-H-S-T’s Nathan Eggerss 8-6.
“I didn’t have hardly any energy left for my last match, but I pulled it out,” said Bluml, a junior and returning state qualifier. “I was planning on being done after the finals match, but I had to wrestle again.”
Four A-H-S-T wrestlers will move on to Underwood. Of Joel Becerra (106), Kyle Bauerkemper (145), Dustin Engel (152) and Austin Fink (160), all but Fink were runners-up. The Vikings senior upset top-seeded Chase Petersen of Audubon by pin in the semifinals, then avenged a regular-season loss to Treynor’s Dane Livengood with an 8-5 finals win.
Livengood surprised Woodbine’s Malachi Mentink 7-5 in sudden victory in his semifinal while earning a district spot.
A-H-S-T, which Fink estimates had seven boys in the wrestling room when he was a freshman, has doubled that number in three years while also increasing its quality. Saturday marked the first time the four-year starter got past the sectional round.
“I always felt like I had it in me to beat just about anybody,” Fink said. “But I finally got over the mental side of it and got it done.”
Woodbine netted three second-place qualifiers in Lucas Hedstrom (126), Nate Rudd (170) and Jesse Espinoza (285). Exira-EHK’s Evan Hansen (182) and Trey Sander (195) each won sectional titles.
Team scoring: East Mills 216, Audubon 205, Riverside 204, A-H-S-T 116, Woodbine 99, Exira-EHK 85.5, Treynor 58.
District qualifiers: 106 pounds: 1, Tatem Bluml, Riverside; 2, Joel Becerra, A-H-S-T. 113: 1, Kyle Juelsgaard, Audubon; 2, Chandler Foss, East Mills. 120: 1, Alec Moorman, East Mills; 2, Ethan Rankin, Riverside. 126: 1, Brad Kerkhoff, Audubon; 2, Lucas Hedstrom, Woodbine. 132: 1, Jake Mulford, Audubon; 2, Tucker Bluml, Riverside. 138: 1, Lane Stortenbecker, East Mills; 2, Zane Loring, Riverside. 145: 1, Trevor Smith, Audubon; 2, Kyle Bauerkemper, A-H-S-T. 152: 1, Josh Hopkins, East Mills; 2, Dustin Engel, A-H-S-T. 160: 1 Austin Fink, A-H-S-T; 2, Dane Livengood, Treynor. 170: 1, Payton Housman, Riverside; 2, Nate Rudd, Woodbine. 182: 1, Evan Hansen, Exira-EHK; 2, Colton Story, East Mills. 195: 1, Trey Sander, Exira-EHK; 2, Nick Perkins, East Mills. 220: 1, Matt Fett, Audubon; 2, Garrett Graves, Riverside. 285: 1, David Howell, East Mills; 2, Jesse Espinoza, Woodbine.