Wrestlers keep on, keepin’ on

South Tama program reloads with high aspirations for new season

South Tama 138 pounder Logan Arp (pictured) returns to lead the Trojans for his senior season after taking home a third-place finish at the State Wrestling Tournament last winter. Head Coach Nate Van Dyke said this year’s team as a whole is very well rounded with few wrestlers coming in with no experience on the mat. The Trojans begin their season this weekend at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Independence. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

Another full crop of talented wrestlers have been hard at work in the practice room this month as the 2021-22 wrestling season is almost ready to begin.

Head Coach Nate Van Dyke has been pleased with the participation numbers the program has seen this season with around 32 wrestlers out for the high school team.

“I’ve been impressed so far with the work ethic of the team,” Van Dyke said. “We had a good intrasquad scrimmage last Tuesday, probably one of the best we’ve had in recent years as far as parity between matches and the quality of the matches that went on.”

In recent years South Tama has maintained a consistent level of success, qualifying a handful of individual wrestlers to the state tournament and often punching their way up high enough to reach the district dual meets.

Last year the Trojans sent senior Brayden Smith, junior Logan Arp and sophomore Rudy Papakee into the 2A state tournament.

After a shortened preseason in 2020, the South Tama County Trojans are glad to have been back in the wrestling room over the past few weeks in preparation for their season. With four returning wrestlers from STC’s slate of district tournament qualifiers last season, the Trojans again look to be a force in Class 2A. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

Arp earned a third place finish in the 132-pound bracket, while Smith finished sixth at 195. Papakee meanwhile made his debut at state wrestling in the heavyweight class and did not advance past the second round.

In dual competition South Tama entered the 2021 Regional Dual meet ranked 24th in Class 2A. The Trojans dispatched of Central DeWitt by a score of 42-23 but ran into a dominant West Delaware team that would go on to win their third straight 2A duals title later in the month at Wells Fargo Arena.

Out of the eight wrestlers that qualified for the district tournament last season, the team returns four including Arp, Papakee as well as young lightweights Amare Chavez and McCael Bear.

Also back in the fold are experienced seniors Boden Koehler (170) and Andres Lugo (145) who will fill out some of the middleweight roster spots.

Arp has made steady progress as a two-time state qualifier, finishing fifth his sophomore year and third last year.

South Tama Head Coach Nate Van Dyke demonstrates an offensive technique during the Trojans preseason practice in late November -- Photo by Darvin Graham

Now coming in as a frontrunner among the 2A 138-pound field, the senior is poised for one last push to the podium.

“Logan just needs to fine tune, you know? He’s got the skills, he’s been wrestling for a long time,” Van Dyke said. “He’s been one match away from the state finals so his goal is to win the state tournament. He’s been a leader for us and is always seeking out the toughest in the practice room. I think he needs to fine tune, stay healthy and get in the best shape of his life.”

Papakee, who is a year younger, has followed a similar trajectory through his career. He came into the program as a freshman with little wrestling experience and got his feet wet competing mostly with the JV squad.

By his sophomore season, he had become more athletic and adept on the mat, taking his skills all the way to The Well. Now a junior Papakee has dropped two weight classes and is looking to take another big step forward.

“Rudy, I can tell, has put in some work in the offseason,” Van Dyke said. “He’s moving a lot better and is more nimble on the mat. His techniques are much improved from last year.”

Assistant Coach Travis Smith works with freshman Cale Graff and Clayton Babinat who will begin the season filling in the 106-pound and 113-pound weight class for the Trojans. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

Van Dyke had little concern about Papakee dropping weight classes as he was undersized at heavyweight to begin with and that his work becoming quicker and more technical would help him transition to the competition at the 195 level.

Newcomers to the lineup this year include a pair of freshmen straw-weights Cale Graff and Clayton Babinat. The two will slot in at 106 and 113 respectively ahead of Chavez and Bear.

Sophomores Jacob Youngbear and Cyrus Mathes will also start the season off with an opportunity to step into the varsity lineup. Youngbear will take on the 132-pound class ahead of Arp while Mathes looks to wrestle 152.

Another sophomore, Gavin Bridgewater, is returning to the sport this season after playing basketball his freshman year. Bridgewater brings a 6-1 athletic body into the roster with prior wrestling as well as other high school varsity athletic experience.

Bridgewater projects to contribute at the 220-pound weight class next to Papakee at 195.

Elsewhere along the opening day roster, South Tama will look for contributions from senior Ryne Kesl at 182 and either Draysen Henle or Dayton Filloon at heavyweight.

That leaves only the 160-pound weight class yet to be determined as the Trojans head into their first week of competition.

Team captains for the 2021-22 will be Logan Arp, Boden Koehler, Ryne Kesl and Rudy Papakee.

South Tama will travel to Independence this weekend for the annual Cliff Keen Invitational Tournament. The event brings together 31 teams from across Iowa as well as teams from neighboring states.

The Trojans plan to wrestle 10 individuals competing toward their team score as well as two wrestlers in an open class.

Action begins Friday where wrestlers will compete in a round robin format to determine placing for the Saturday brackets. With a gold and silver bracket being wrestled, the tournament provides more opportunity for wrestlers at various skill levels to match up against similar competition.

While the varsity squad is in Independence, South Tama will send 18 JV wrestlers to Bondurant for the Bluejay Invitational.

The Trojans then open up the Roundhouse next Thursday for a dual against Clear Creek-Amana and follow that up with the annual STC Duals home meet on Saturday, Dec. 11.

The team will hold two more home dual meets in January, one against Williamsburg and Center Point-Urbana on Jan. 20 and another against Marion on Jan. 27.

The regular season schedule is set up similar to previous seasons with WaMaC conference duals on Thursdays and the usual road tournaments on Saturdays including trips to Pella, Ankeny, Highland/Riverside and East Marshall.

The regular season wraps up with the WaMaC Conference Tournament which will be hosted by Solon on Saturday, Jan. 29.