DES MOINES — The folks from wrestling publication The Predicament generally do a fantastic job of the thankless task of ranking teams and individuals.
This year, however, there was one glaring omission from the Class 2-A team rankings: Creston/Orient-Macksburg.
The Panthers never appeared in the top 10 of the traditional team rankings, but here they are, knocking on the door of a state team title. Creston/Orient-Macksburg sent senior Spencer Wray (138) and sophomore Chase Shiltz (160) to Saturday’s finals and is second in Class 2-A after Friday’s action at Wells Fargo Arena.
Top-rated Union leads with 76 points, followed by Creston/O-M (71), second-rated Mediapolis (65) and eighth-rated Crestwood (58).
“Nobody ever really looked at us the whole year,” Creston/O-M coach Darrell Frain said. “We never got individuals in the rankings until the end. We kind of just used that for fuel. We’re so excited to be where we’re at. Nobody expected this but ourselves.”
Also advancing to the finals from western Iowa were third-rated sophomore Brayden Curry (54-2) of Sergeant Bluff-Luton at 120 and top-rated senior Dusten Reed (50-0) of Bedford/Lenox at 132.
For Creston/O-M, top-rated Shiltz (30-0) decisioned No. 4 Jake Juhl of Independence to earn his second trip to the finals. He finished second at 145 last year.
“He was in control,” Frain said. “These kids that put in hours and hours on the mat, you can tell who they are when they get up here, because they under
stand the situation. They don’t get caught up in all the hype and they wrestle well when they’re out there.”
The big story for the Panthers was eighth-rated Wray (30-2), the senior who was making his first trip to state. His in-your-face style translated into an 11-3 win by major decision over unrated Cole Fritz of Solon, who had upset the second- and third-rated wrestlers to reach the semifinals.
Wray nearly pinned Fritz in the final seconds.
“I was talking to the ref while I was trying to pin him,” Wray said. “I was like, ‘Come on, he’s flat!’ ”
Frain said Wray is a great example of the consistency the Panther program strives for. He started in kindergarten, but he didn’t travel to faraway tournaments like many of Saturday’s finalists.
“He’s been there all the time. Never quit,” Frain said. “He just stayed with the program and look where he’s at.”
Wray knows he’s overcome more obstacles than others. He credited his mother, Lori, for keeping him on the right track.
“All these other kids have had these dads that push them every day from when they were little,” he said. “Since about fifth, sixth grade, me and my dad had some troubles and what not, so my mom would be the only one there.
“She made sure I got up. She made sure I wasn’t eating too much. She let me drink my chocolate milk. She’s my No. 1 right now.”
At 132, Bedford/Lenox’s Reed earned a 7-4 decision over No. 8 Carter Barkema of Hampton-Dumont.
Reed, who went 0-2 last year in his state debut, improved his career mark to 175-22, which is a school record for wins. He’ll face second-rated senior Bradley Irwin (50-7) of Centerville in the finals.
At 120, Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Curry assured he’ll improve on last year’s third-place finish at 106 with a 5-4 win over No. 2 Ryan Schmalen of Clear Lake via the ultimate tiebreaker.
In the final 30-second tiebreaker, Schmalen chose the down position. He desperately tried to break free from Curry in the final seconds, but the Warrior held on — literally — for the victory.
Western Iowans who dropped semifinal matches included Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Devin Phaly (113), Red Oak’s Tanner Mertz (145), Clarinda’s J.J. Clark (170), and Creston/O-M’s Seth Maitlen (195) and Kadon Hulett (220).
Both Creston wrestlers almost claimed spots in the finals. Seventh-rated Maitlen gave up an escape with 1:20 left in a 4-3 loss to No. 2 Brad Skubal of Washington. And No. 8 Hulett took top-rated Carter Isley of Albia to the wire before falling 2-0.
“Seth is wrestling as good as good as he’s ever wrestled in the last couple weeks,” Frain said. “You never worry about him leaving everything out there. And we knew Hulett would have a chance. It was just going to be tough to score on our feet.”
Creston is in the midst of a strong run of athletic success. The Panthers made their first trip to the UNI-Dome last November and have maintained the momentum into the winter.
“It does carry over,” Frain said. “To a degree though, football hurt us. Before Christmas was a struggle. But in the long run, now, I definitely think it helped a lot.”
Contact the writer: