OAKLAND, Iowa — Tatem Bluml doesn’t consider himself bulky. No one else has mistaken the 5-foot-6, 113-pounder as a bodybuilder, either.
But anyone who faces the Riverside wrestler this season quickly learns one thing — this guy is coming on strong.
The junior’s physical development is a chilling reality for other lightweights who have already found him tough to handle. A wrestler since preschool, Bluml relied on his experience to go 41-13 as a freshman, despite routinely competing against more muscular opponents.
Bluml discovered the weight room last year, with now-graduated older brother Tucker often forcing him out of bed and driving him to morning workout sessions. The payoff was a 58-9 mark — the program record for wins in a season — and the run ended with a surprise fourth-place finish at 106 pounds at the Iowa Class 1-A state tournament.
Now another year tougher and pumping iron to start his school days, Bluml is 19-1 and rated No. 5 in his class and weight by the Predicament. Like the amount of weight he lifts, the wins have continued to pile up.
“I’m usually technically better than most of the people I wrestle,” Bluml said. “But now if somebody is better, I can actually overpower them sometimes. A little bit of extra strength helps a lot.”
No one has seen the transformation from closer range than Riverside teammate and friend Ethan Rankin. The senior has long been Bluml’s stronger workout partner, and this year he opened up a size advantage of about 20 pounds.
It hasn’t helped much.
“He mostly beats me like every time,” Rankin said. “Hardly anybody shoots on me; I can defend them easy. Tatem just takes me down like it’s nothing, and I don’t know how.”
Since nearly getting pinned at districts last year, Bluml has emphasized being the aggressor. With a longer reach than most, he has his best moments from the top position after grabbing a leg for a takedown. His signature move might be the “ball and chain” series, which involves maneuvering an opponent’s arm and turning him to his back.
Riverside coach Casey Conover said Bluml prefers a good dual to any tournament. He often wrestled up a weight for the benefit of the team, which is 11-3. A common result for Bluml might be a 6-0 decision while dominating throughout.
“He knows every match he has to be at his best because people are gunning for him,” Conover said. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘Hey, we want to wrestle Tatem because that’s where we want our kids to be.’”
Calm and quiet by nature, Bluml is known as perhaps the most spirited practice participant in the Riverside room. Some of it has to do with having four cousins as teammates in Otis Matejka (152 pounds), Isaiah Boot (195) and Coy Maher (285) as well as Brock Bentley, who won’t wrestle this year after a knee injury in football.
Mostly, the 16-year-old just wants to be the best at whatever he’s doing, even if it’s a simple CrossFit workout.
“I know you’re not really supposed to wrestle not to lose, but that’s kind of what I do,” Bluml said. “I really don’t like to lose — and yes, I like to win a lot. I’m pretty competitive; that’s why I get up to lift weights in the morning.”
Bluml was born into a wrestling family. His father, Shawn Bluml, was a longtime youth coach in the area and serves as Riverside’s junior high coach, while brother Tucker was a three-time state qualifier. One of four children, Tatem grew up in Carson learning maneuvers on a mat.
But Bluml hardly specializes in one sport. He ran cross country in the fall and will do track and soccer this spring before rounding out with baseball. He also carries high academic marks, is part of the student council and is active in his church.
“A lot of our sports, we may not be the best,” Rankin said. “But we have individuals on our teams that are really good, and Tatem’s always one of those guys.”
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