INDEPENDENCE — More often than not, the first year of an event is an adventure to say the least, a test run to see where improvements can be made.
Not so for the new and improved Independence Tournament.
The beefed-up version — there were 25 teams at this year’s event — came off with nary a hitch and got plenty of rave reviews.
In the end, it was Class 2A powerhouse New Hampton which came away with the team trophy. New Hampton finish with 285 points, 26 better than runner-up Fort Dodge. Christian Brothers College, a powerhouse out of St. Louisa, took third.
Not surprisingly, New Hampton coach Nick Hemann was impressed with the tournament, which gave wrestlers up to 10 matches in two days, including New Hampton’s Ryan Gorman, who went 8-0 to win the title at 160 pounds.
“The tournament was run really well,” Hemann said. “Independence did a great job running it. They brought in Alburnett, Fort Dodge … some really big teams. It was a good test for us right away. I love the format. Our better guys got better competition and the other guys got matches against kids of similar skill levels. There were a lot of good matches and a lot of good caliber kids. It gave us a lot of things to work on.”
“It was very similar to the state tournament,” said Gorman, who went 8-0 with four pins and a major decision. “When you get into a big tournament, you have to weight in on Friday night and again on Saturday night and you have to keep your mindset in the right place and everything will be fine in the end. Of all the tournaments I’ve been in in high school, that one was like a fast break pace. You would just get rested up and before you knew it you were back out on the mat again. It was a great tournament.”
Keegan Tenge, was third at 145, going 8-1 with six pins and a major decision. His lone loss was to Class 3A’s third-ranked Josh Gerke of Cedar Rapids Xavier. For Tenge, it was an opportunity to test the waters and see where he is at as the season winds toward it midway point.
“I really enjoyed the tournament myself. It was almost like a pre-state tournament with that many caliber kids and teams there. It really lets you see where you’re at and what you need to work on,” Tenge said. “I just need to stay to basics. I won all my matches except against Gerke. I just got ahead of myself and got out of position. I’ve got to stick to basics, stay true to myself. Just do what you do best.”
Just how good was the Independence Tournament. Wrestlers from nine different schools came away with titles in the 14 weight classes. But only two teams — Fort Dodge (4) and Christian Brothers College (3) — had multiple champions.
Winning titles for the Dodgers were Drew Bennett at 113, Brody Teske (120), Triston Lara (138) and Cayd Lara (152). Between them, they were a combined 30-0 with 20 pins, two technical falls and a major decision.
In one of the premier matches of the tournament, Teske squared off with Solon senior Bryce West in a battle of two-time state champions in the final at 120. West grabbed the early lead, but Teske simply would not be denied. Task battled his way back into the match, finally pinning West in 5:25 to win the title.
That was the type of match the administration at Independence envisioned when they decided to beef up the tournament. It was type of match fans dream of. And it was the type of match that will make both Teske and West better in the long run.
“That’s the type of match that you want to get, one that goes down to the last three minutes. That’s what you work hard for,” Teske said. “I honestly didn’t know Bryce West was going to be there until Triston told me. It was good to see what good competition is like.
“It was kind of like the state tournament because you’re staying in hotel rooms, you have to control your weight and get ready for a match just like at state. You have to perform at a high level every day. That makes it easier when state comes around. It makes you stay focused because you don’t know who is going to win and who you are going to wrestle next. Not knowing helps in the long run. You don’t know them and they don’t know me, so you just go out and wrestle and do what you do best.”
The Independence Tournament was like the state tournament in many ways. It not only gave the wrestlers some of the best competition they will face before February, it also had all the atmosphere and feel of the state tournament.
“They had 1,250 matches in two days. They have 1,270 matches at state. That is great for our sport,” Hemann said.
“Our guys as a whole wrestled really well. The effort and attitude was there and they fought through a lot of tough situations and that’s all we wanted to see. If we correct a few things and keep wrestling that way, we’ll be right there in the mix at the end of the year.”