WAVERLY — Austin Yant is a three-time state wrestling placewinner with one major goal remaining on his to-do list — a state championship.
The Waverly-Shell Rock senior has added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, and his growth over the past year isn’t just physical. During last weekend’s prestigious Cheesehead Invitational, Yant showcased plenty of fight as he overcame deficits in the semifinals and finals — grinding out a pair of one-point victories en route to a 7-0 championship run.
Yant joins current UNI wrester Bryce Steiert as the only Go-Hawks to win a title at the Wisconsin tournament that attracted competitors from 31 schools through the Midwest this year.
“I just had to battle a lot,” Yant said.
“Obviously, the competition is tough there. Every match you’ve got to go in and battle and not change your style because someone is good ... just win the fight.”
The comeback wins marked progress from the end of Yant’s junior season. Competing in his first state final, Yant tallied a third-period escape but was unable to finish his Class 3A, 132-pound championship bout with a takedown as he lost, 3-2, to West Des Moines Valley’s Grant Stotts.
Yant has found comfort in the 152-pound weight class this season, jumping out to a 28-0 start with 10 wins by fall and five additional technical falls.
“I’m not really cutting any weight this year, so I’m feeling a lot stronger,” Yant said. “I lifted a lot this summer and fall and practiced all summer long. I didn’t take many breaks at all. I’ve just been grinding since February.”
Waverly-Shell Rock head coach Eric Whitcome was pleased with how Yant responded to adversity last weekend, embracing a more physical approach.
“He wrestled with high energy,” Whitcome said. “He’s been more physical this year than he has been in the past.
“The majority of the matches this year he’s controlled and dominated. It’s nice to see him get behind and have to work himself back into the lead.”
Yant is already guaranteed to finish his career as one of the most successful wrestlers from Waverly-Shell Rock’s storied program. He currently ranks 10th all-time with 160 career wins, 25 back of the program record set by Eric DeVos.
If it wasn’t for Austin’s younger brother, Evan, he may have never gravitated toward the wrestling mats. Austin Yant can recall skipping basketball practices in third grade to go watch Evan wrestle. Eventually, the elder Yant decided to give the sport a try.
“My friends would wrestle and they were pretty tough,” Yant said. “I loved the competing aspect of it. It looked like so much fun. It’s just you out there. You can’t really blame anyone else for why you lose. You either win because of you, or you lose because of you.”
Yant’s freshman season at W-SR was the 2013-14 campaign in which the Go-Hawks spent time ranked among the top 30 in the nation with a large and accomplished senior class that tallied 151.5 points to place third in Class 3A’s state meet behind nationally-ranked Bettendorf and Southeast Polk. Whitcome set the bar high for Yant the spring before that season.
“I said, ‘Here’s the deal, Austin. We’re going to need to you to be 106 for us next year and we need you to be a state medalist,’” Whitcome recalled. “A lot of kids can look at it one of two ways. You either get freaked out or you kind of jump on the bandwagon and say, ‘Heck yeah, let’s do it’. He was a kid that said, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’ Ever since he’s just continued to get better.”
Added Yant, “At first that was a lot to take in, but then I just thought about it and realized it was not that unrealistic.”
Yant placed seventh in 3A at 106 as a freshman and sixth at 113 as a sophomore before last year’s runner-up finish. Team success is also important for the senior, who believes this year’s Go-Hawks can improve from their fourth-place finish a year ago and earn a spot among the top three.
“It’s nice to do stuff for yourself, but ultimately, it’s all about the team,” Yant said. “When we wrestle to our potential, we can do great things. We’re going to make a run for a trophy in February.”
Whitcome says Yant just needs to continue to improve on the changes he’s already made to this point in the season, staying physical and attacking opponents from both sides of the body. Ranked No. 2 behind a returning 138-pound state champion in Iowa City West’s Nelson Brands, Yant certainly isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Take every match the same and just go after it,” Yant said of his approach. “Don’t wait because it’s the fastest six minutes of your life.”