SOLON - For the second-straight week, Nate Van Dyke was worried his wrestling squad might be a one-hit wonder at the remaining postseason tournaments.
On Saturday, the South Tama wrestling coach was once again pleasantly surprised with the final results after his Trojans fought through must-win matches. The Trojans won 2-of-3 state-qualify matches during the final round of the Class 2A District 6 tournament.
Senior Levi Kaufman (152 pounds) and junior Kolton Smith (160) joined senior Erik Lux (170) as qualifiers for this weekend's state tournament at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
South Tama senior Levi Kaufman lifts Mount Vernon’s Cody Ruden during their 152-pound wrestle-back match Saturday at the Class 2A District 6 tournament in Solon. The pair of wrestlers faced each other the previous week and Ruden won. Kaufman avenged that loss with a third-period pin, which qualified him for his first-ever state tournament.
"I'm pretty happy with today," Van Dyke said. "I was pretty worried with that wrestle-back round now two weeks in a row. I can't handle too much more of that. I think one more would have put me over the edge. Last week, we won 5-out-of-5 and today we won 2-out-of-3. It would have been nice to have (Jaret) Probasco, who was leading in the third period, but we'll take the guys we got."
Van Dyke said he was proud of Kaufman and Smith for winning the wrestle-back matches, which sent the winner to the state tournament.
"We always talk about it," Van Dyke said. "For a senior, that would potentially be his last match ever. For everybody, a trip to state is riding on that match. We were in good position with two of those guys, because they got a guy coming off a loss in the finals. Sometimes you can get a bit devastated when you lose in the finals. That's what Kaufman and Probasco had. Smith did a great job of coming out of a finals loss to beat the kid from Union."
Kaufman needed to win two matches on the backside of the bracket to make his first state tournament. He was overcome with emotion and excitement following his final match.
"Ridiculous. Finally a reality," Kaufman said. "I've been working at it for three years running. It's great to finally reach this goal."
Kaufman started the day against the No. 1 seed at 152 pounds, Union's Logan Thomsen. Kaufman hung tough but was pinned in the second period (3:33) by the eventual champion. In the backside bracket, he faced Denver's Dylan Meister and won 11-6 to stay alive. Thomsen beat Mount Vernon's Cody Ruden in the finals, setting up a wrestle-back match between Kaufman and Ruden, who faced each other in the finals at the sectional meet just seven days earlier.
"Coach Van Dyke and I watched the tape and studied it," Kaufman said. "We knew the things I had to do to beat him. Obviously, he was studying me too, because it was a close win."
Kaufman hadn't forgot about his 10-6 loss to Ruden at the sectional tournament. Kaufman took Ruden down twice, both times right off the whistle at the center of the mat. He led 4-3 late in the match before pinning Ruden in the third period (5:53).
"He's always flat-footed right off of the whistle," Kaufman said. "I thought I might as well try it. I've done it a couple of other times in a couple different close matches. I was hoping it would work and in the third period, he was worn out and I was tired."
Smith also qualified with a victory on the final wrestle-back round. He beat Robert Rathbun of Center Point-Urbana by third-round pinfall (4:30) in his first match. In the finals, he lost to Mount Vernon's Trey Ryan, who beat Smith at sectionals and is still undefeated this season, by pin in the second period (3:22).
In his last match, Smith defeated Union's Cole Reiter by a score of 5-4 to finish as the 160 runner-up. It was the fourth time they've faced each other this season and Smith has won three of those matches.
"It was a tough one," Smith said. "I should have beaten him by more, but I gave up a little bit."
The STC junior was excited to make the state tournament for his first time.
"It feels amazing," Smith said. "This is the best feeling in the world. I went from winning three matches my freshman year to 33 this year. It's amazing. These last two weeks at sectionals and districts, I've been on top of my game."
Leading the way for the Trojans was Lux, who once again remained undefeated in search of his second state championship. That title is now a few matches away from becoming a reality this weekend.
"This is one more step," Lux said. "It was a good day."
Saturday wasn't an easy one for Lux. He battled illness at the beginning of last week and was only able to practice Thursday and Friday. Regardless of his health, Lux pinned CP-U's Austin Shaffer in the second period (2:53) of their semifinal match. In the finals, he faced Denver's Izaak Shedenhelm, whom he beaten at the NICL meet at the end of January, but Lux knew it would be a tough match.
"He made gains and I made gains," Lux said. "I am coming off a sickness, so I was a little tired. I missed Monday and Tuesday."
Lux controlled the match and beat Shedenhelm 6-2 to win his weight class.
"Like any other match, you have to keep pushing the pace," Lux said. "In the third period, they'll get tired and that's when you score."
He's ready for his final high school meet and knows how hard he must work this week to prepare for the state tournament.
"I just have to keep critiquing everything," Lux said. "I also have to work on my tilts and staying on top. Staying healthy would be a good thing, too. It will be a good time down there."
STC freshman Jaret Prosbasco came less than two minutes away from qualifying for state in his first try. He lost the opening match by pin to CP-U's Brock Rathbun, who won both of his matches with first-round pins, but Probasco won his first wrestle-back match over Clear Creek Amana's Connor Murphy with a first period pin (1:55). In the last wrestle-back match, Probasco was leading 6-2 entering the third period, but was pinned less than 30 seconds into the period, ending his season with a 33-16 record.
The two other district qualifiers were sophomores Kade Steuhm and Kyle Llewellyn. They both went 0-2 on Saturday. Both lost close matches in their wrestle-back rounds. Steuhm finished his season 32-13, while Llewellyn was 22-20.
"They will all be back and they'll be tough," Van Dyke said of his three underclassmen who finished their seasons Saturday. "It was good experience for them to be here. I would have liked to get them down to state, but those kids will all be back after a great season."
Now, the STC trio heads to Des Moines for the state tournament. The 2A action starts at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"It's going to be a fun ride," Van Dyke said. "We're going to have a 152-pounder out and maybe a 160 going at the same time. Might even have a 170 at the same time. It could be a little bit of a wild 15-minutes."