DES MOINES – It isn’t often that freshmen take on a role of leader for a talented and experienced wrestling team.
That is exactly what has happened at Underwood.
The Eagles finished fifth in Class 1A at last year’s state tournament, but this year they felt they entered Wells Fargo Arena a little under the radar. Through two rounds Underwood has shown they are going to be a force as they try to get their hands around a team trophy Saturday night.
Freshmen Stevie Barnes and Nick Hamilton are helping Underwood rack up the team points as the top-ranked 106-pounder in Barnes (50-2) has a pin and a technical fall to reach the state semifinals. Hamilton, ranked-second at 138, took out Denver’s Riley Wright in the quarterfinals 7-5, impressive considering Wright was ranked No. 1 at 145 before dropping down for the postseason.
“It is all about the training and my coaches,” Barnes said. “I just have to stay on my offense because I have been beating people being real physical and staying on my offense.”
Barnes punishes his opponents in impressive fashion, but even more noteworthy is the praise his teammates heap his way.
“He is a freshman and he is one of the most mature kids on our whole entire team,” Underwood’s Logan James said. “He is like a father to all of us because he takes care of all of us and makes sure we are doing good.”
“He is going to do phenomenal things for this program and help us continue to build,” Underwood 160-pounder Michael Baker said. “It is odd because you don’t see that all that often that he is as mature as he is for his age.
“I hate to compare people but he is almost a young Alex Thomsen (Underwood’s four-time state champion). He has those leadership skills, he has that drive and he wants to be the best.”
The Eagles brought nine wrestlers to the state tournament and four found their way to the semifinals. That put them in third place in the team standings with 52.5 points. Don Bosco leads the way with 77.5 and Denver has 54.
It is a group that has put in the work to enjoy success this weekend.
“This is the biggest stage of the year and what we all have been working for it all year,” Barnes said. “We are really motivated and it is the biggest goal right now.”
Baker had not found the medal stand in his previous trips to the Well, going 1-2 each time. Friday morning the senior just missed a takedown of Lake Mills’ fifth-ranked Elijah Wagner at the end of the third period before getting it in overtime to win 3-1.
“This is my fourth year here and I have lost every year in the blood round,” Baker said. “That was amazing and I wanted that medal so bad coming in here. It is just believing in myself which is a big thing.”
James, the fifth-ranked junior at 132, is now a three-time state placer after holding off Mason City Newman’s Jacob McBride, 3-2, handing the fourth-ranked wrestler his first loss of the season. James rode McBride out in the second period to maintain his 3-1 lead.
“We have been working a lot on top and not just on turns, but in those tough situations being able to get on top and ride someone like a dog is always good,” James said.
The only setback for Underwood in the quarterfinals came at 145 where Blake Thomsen was disqualified in his match for a slam. The junior, who is a two-time state placer, did come back to record a technical fall in the consolations to keep his tournament alive.
Despite that, the Eagles look to continue the momentum and claim some more hardware.
“Our whole team just has the mindset of killers,” James said. “Our coach asked each of us, ‘What are you doing at this tournament?’ Every one of us said, ‘win it.’”