Senior Spotlight: Cole Rathjen, Ankeny

By Joshua Swafford for The Predicament

 

When did you begin wrestling? Who got you started?

I started wrestling when I was in kindergarten for the Ankeny Wrestling Club (AWC). Even though they didn’t take kindergarteners at the time, my dad asked if we could come anyway, that was the start of my career and also the start of my dad helping out with the club.

Do you have any family members who wrestled in the past?

Both my dad, Kirk, and my uncle, Kyle, wrestled in high school. They both wrestled for Joe Loftus at Iowa Valley High School in Marengo, IA. My dad placed 4th as a junior and was an undefeated state champ at 171 lbs his senior year- 1992.

I noticed that there was a Logan Rathjen from Missouri who beat some good wrestlers from Iowa at various events such as the Council Bluffs Classic. Is he any relation to you?

Yes, Logan is my cousin and wrestles for nationally ranked Liberty High School in Missouri.  He won several kid state championships down there. He is going to be a sophomore next year and I am sure he will be a legend before it’s all over with!  If that doesn’t work out for him, he has a decent meme game going on… it’s one of the top wrestling meme pages on Instagram…

Did you catch on to wrestling quickly or did it take time?

Honestly, I don’t remember much from my younger wrestling years. I think I caught onto it fairly quickly and won a decent number of matches at an early age.  I started having some anxiety around 2nd grade and kind of took a back seat to competition.

What club did you wrestle for growing up? How was that experience?

I wrestled for Ankeny Wrestling Club growing up.  It was great, and a very fun experience.  We had some awesome coaches in Topher Ewing and Mitch Mueller.  They always made it fun and we did things outside of practice which always made us want to come back.

What were some of your more memorable moments in youth wrestling?

One of my most memorable moments was making it to state for the first time in 5th grade.  It was the first time I had wrestled in districts and I had a good bracket with Joel Shaprio and some others.  Another memorable moment was when Mitch and Topher took the Elite kids from AWC up to Topher’s parents in Plymouth, IA (by Mason City) for a camp out.  We camped, played a bunch of games, tubed down the river and paint balled.  It was one of those moments off the mat, that really stuck with me.  They invested time in us, not just in the wrestling room.

Who were some of your wrestling heroes growing up?

Tony Ramos was one of my biggest hero’s growing up.  We would try to go to an Iowa dual every year and I just felt he dominated his opponents.  I loved his style!  The last 9 or 10 years my dad has tried to get us to the NCAA D1 Championships in March.  We have missed a couple, but we always followed the Iowa guys: Morningstar, Metcalf, McDonough, St John, Clark, Gilman, Kemerer & Lee – just to name a few.

How did you perform at the state tournament at the youth level?

I made it to AAU state all three times I wrestled in districts, but I never placed at AAU state as a kid.  I probably had a decent shot at placing high my 6th grade year, but my nerves got the best of me and after winning my first couple matches, I defaulted out of the tournament.  I did place at USA state my 8th grade year.  Considering the nerves I had at that point in my life, it was a huge accomplishment for me.

How did you perform at the state tournament at the high school level?

My junior year I made it to the district championship and lost by one.  I then had to wrestle for a true 2nd and lost that match by a take down with three seconds left.  That was tough to take for a long time. I made it to state my senior year and went 0-2.  I felt like I could have done better, but it still was an amazing experience.

Was there a certain point in your career where you started making huge strides?

After Christmas break my junior year something started clicking for me.  I started winning a lot more and felt more confident stepping out on the mat. After losing at districts my junior year to go to state, I knew I needed more. I did a lot of freestyle and I spent a lot of time in the off season with former Ankeny High state champ and Oklahoma Sooner Ross Larsen.  He helped me quite a bit.

Who were some of your biggest battles with in High School?

I battled Nate Heckart of Norwalk quite a bit throughout my sophomore -junior years.  They were always close matches. He was who I lost to in district my junior year to go to state. I never beat him, but I knew it was going to be a dogfight every time we wrestled.

What was your most memorable wrestling memory in high school?

Making state was an amazing feeling.  I knew my family was extremely happy for me because they knew how much time I had put into the sport in the off season.

Did you feel like a weight was lifted after qualifying for state as a senior?

Honestly, it was a relief, kind of like a monkey off my back, considering what happened the year before.  I was very excited to be there and to be there with my brother Caleb.

Do you plan on wrestling in the future?

Right now, I’m still nursing some injuries from Freestyle State, but I plan to stay on the mat and leave my wrestling options open in college.

Describe Ankeny wrestling in one word:

Climbing

Do you have any regrets or did you leave it all out there?

I wish I would have stayed out the entire season my freshman year.  I went to practice for a couple weeks and my nerves just got the best of me and I quit. I definitely think it would have helped me my sophomore-senior years had I stuck it out.

Did you play any other sports besides wrestling? If so, how did you do?

I played baseball my freshman and sophomore year.  I was decent, but I decided after my sophomore summer season to focus on wrestling.

What are some of your hobbies?

I love to fish and hang out with my friends.

What was your all-time favorite wrestling memory?

My favorite high school memory will always be wrestling at state with my brother. A close second is my junior year when I won the Atlantic tournament and it came down to my match and our Heavyweight (my friend Mello Gray’s) matches.  We were wrestling at the same time, we both ended up winning our matches and it was our two matches that gave us enough points to win the tournament as a team as well.

What is the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I received was to focus on me and not to worry about others. I had a tendency to focus on who I was wrestling, instead, I just needed to keep preparing myself and let the chips fall where they may.

Do you have any advice for up and coming wrestlers?

My advice to any upcoming wrestlers would be to take time to have fun and enjoy it.  Don’t let little things get in your way.  It goes by very quickly.

Which coaches were the most influential for you in your wrestling career?

At the youth level it was definitely Topher and Mitch. They made it fun for me at a time when I needed it to be fun.  And they invested time with me off the mat even though I wasn’t really competing at the time.  At the high school level it was really all my coaches.  They each brought something different for me.  Our head coach, Jack Wignall, was always good with trying to keep me calm, and to try to look at the bigger picture (it was just a wrestling match after all).  Austin Anderson was the tough one, trying to help me prepare mentally.  Derek Huber just kept things light for me.

What are your future plans? Will you be wrestling?

My plans right now are to attend DMACC here in Ankeny to get my Gen Ed classes done.  I am going to keep it my options open hoping to wrestle with a college in the future.

Have you ever considered coaching in the future?

My plans are to continue to compete and maybe coaching later on.

What is the future outlook for Ankeny wrestling?

AHS wrestling is going to continue to be good. They have all their returning place winners (Sam Kallem and 2 state champs-my brother, Caleb, and Trever Anderson) returning and a really athletic freshman class coming in.  Ankeny also has a good youth program with AWC.  We have had some great coaches and kids come up through the club and still do.  Oh, and Caleb and I still have a little brother ..… Calvin.

How proud are you of your younger brother and the accolades he is achieving?

I am very proud of Caleb.  I am his biggest fan.  I love watching him compete.  The time he puts in to the sport is unreal.  It’s not a surprise to me that he has all these achievements. He definitely works hard for it and deserves it. He has a bright future ahead of him.

When Cole’s brother, Caleb was asked about how proud he was of his older brother accomplishing his goals on the mat as a Senior, this was his response:

Caleb Rathjen: I am extremely proud of my brother for accomplishing his goal of qualifying for the state tournament.  It’s been amazing being able to be on the same team with him and also watching him become more dedicated to the sport.  It was awesome being able to be down at Wells Fargo competing along side of him.