DES MOINES — It’s six minutes in the greatest three-ring show in the high school wrestling world.
Waverly-Shell Rock’s Austin Yant and Dike-New Hartford’s Trent Johnson made it to that show a year ago, but it was an utter disappointment for both.
Yant said his 3-2 loss to Grant Stotts of West Des Moines Valley in the Class 3A 132-pound final felt like it started and finished in the same time it takes to blink your eyes.
“It was the fastest six minutes of my life,” Yant recalled.
Johnson agrees. The entire experience of wrestling in the state finals didn’t last long enough.
The standout D-NH football player and three-time state wrestling placewinner was stopped short of his state title dreams a year ago by Lisbon’s Carter Happel, who defeated Johnson 7-1 to become the 25th four-time state champion in Iowa history.
“I talked to another friend who was in the finals, and he said it seemed like we shook hands and then it was over. It was very, very fast,” Johnson said.
To be so close and come up short is bittersweet. Both Johnson and Yant would like nothing more than to get back inside that three-ring spectacle, and each has an idea how to get it done.
“I’ve got to score points now, score points quick and I can’t wait to score in the third period,” said Yant, ranked second behind Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands, who is also in Yant’s half of the 152-pound bracket. “If I wrestle the way I can, there is no reason I can’t have a better performance than last year for sure.”
Yant enters the state tournament with 178 career wins, which ties him for fourth all-time in W-SR history with Jordan Rinken and Eric Thompson. He is a win away from tying Jacob Ballweg for third and he is five behind Go-Hawks’ all-time wins leaders Cody Krumwiede and Eric DeVos with 183 apiece.
Johnson replays his loss to Happel through his head all the time.
“I still remember how I felt afterwards and that I had worked so hard and didn’t get my goal,” Johnson said. “My screensaver on my phone is of me in the second-place spot on the podium. It is my motivation. I can’t wait to get back down there.
“I’ve got to wrestle my matches. I’ve got to breathe and I have to have fun. I do those three things and I believe I can get my goal.”
Johnson and Yant, along with 84 other Northeast Iowa wrestlers, will begin that quest Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
As far as team races, Don Bosco of Gilbertville with nine qualifiers is among the favorites in 1A as the Dons try to capture their 11th traditional state title, but first since 2012.
Don Bosco has the most qualifiers in the field with Sibley-Ocheyedan having eight and Missouri Valley and Interstate 35 each qualifying seven.
“Everybody talks about tough draws. But that is the beauty of the state tournament,” Don Bosco head coach Tom Hogan said. “You’ve got to win two matches to place at the state tournament and we are going to need everybody to get on the stand in order to have a chance to win the title.”
New Hampton is among the contenders in 2A. Despite having just six qualifiers, Chickasaw head coach Nick Hemann believes he has enough firepower, including past champions Michael Millage and Keaton Geerts, to get it done.
“I’ve got six guys who I think are hammers, have been battled tested and are ready to let it fly,” Hemann said.
Ballard of Huxley and Solon are tied with the most qualifiers with eight each.
In Class 3A, W-SR’s seven qualifiers ties for seventh. Johnston qualified the most with 12, while Fort Dodge (11), North Scott (10) and Southeast Polk (10) are also in double figures.
The metro area will be represented with 10 qualifiers — Jakey Penrith, Gabe Penrith, Bryce Pilcher and Tanner Doyle from Cedar Falls, Joventay Burris and Sam Gerst from West, Tyrell Gordon, Eric Gleiter and Omar Begic from East and Kaleb Boleyn of Columbus.
Begic will be trying to reach the podium for the third time in his career. Pilcher and Gerst are making their second state tournament trips, while the remaining seven are all state tournament rookies.