A very big wrestling weekend was capped off by Iowa's blowout win over Oklahoma State on Sunday but that event was really just dessert for wrestling fans in the state -- the main course was the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament, which took place in Des Moines from Thursday through Saturday. Iowa had several Class of 2020 (and 2021) recruits in action at the state wrestling tournament -- and they did very well for themselves.
Cullan Schriever, who committed to Iowa way back in September of 2018, began his Mason City career with dreams of becoming a four-time state champion -- a dream that seemed very attainable after he won state titles as a freshman and sophomore. Unfortunately, that dream was dashed last year, as an injury ended his season prematurely and ended his four-timer hopes. He returned to action this year, though, and finished off his prep career with one more state title, taking the 126 lb crown in 3A. Schriever went 4-0 at the state tournament, with a pair of technical fall wins in his first two bouts, before a major decision win in the semifinals and a 9-4 win over Fort Dodge's Carson Taylor in the finals.
Schriever's twin brother, Colby, was also in action (at 145 lbs), but he had a less successful state tournament, going just 1-2 and not placing. Like Cullan, he'll also be attending Iowa next season.
Ankeny's Caleb Rathjen added another state title to his resume -- and did so in impressive fashion, too. Rathjen, a junior, committed to Iowa last November, as a two-time state finalist and a one-time state champion. Make that a three-time state finalist and a two-time champion now. Rathjen, who entered the state tournament with a 39-1 record, blitzed the 3A field at 138 lbs. He won his first three matches via fall (with times of 0:58, 4:56, 2:32), then dominated Fort Dodge's Dreyzon Phillips for a 17-6 major decision win in the finals. Rathjen is a Class of 2021 recruit, so he still has another year of high school wrestling to go. Based on his performance this year, he'll be a heavy favorite to become a 3x champion next year. The biggest question might be what weight he does it at -- he was at 113 as a freshman 126 as a sophomore, and 138 this year.
Southeast Polk's Gabe Christenson committed to Iowa a little under a year ago, in the aftermath of his first Iowa state championship. Christenseon went 35-1 and won the 195 lb state title last year; he equaled that feat this season. Christenson entered the state tournament with a 36-1 record and bonused his way to the final, with a pin in the first round, a 19-6 major decision win in the second round, and a 12-1 major decision win in the semifinals. He topped Cedar Rapids Prairie's Ashton Stoner-DeGroot (and his mustache) in the final, 12-7.
There was another Iowa recruit who won a state title, too -- he's just not an Iowa wrestling recruit. Bettendorf's Griffin Liddle, the son of former Iowa heavyweight wrestler Josh Liddle, is a 3* member of Iowa's 2021 football recruiting class, where he projects as a defensive tackle. But he's also a pretty good wrestler, too. After finishing 5th as a freshman and runner-up as a sophomore, Liddle finally got on top of the podium this season. Liddle, who ended the season with a perfect 19-0 record, pinned his way to the finals (with times of 5:39, 1:46, and 3:31), before he dispatched Ames' Gabriel Greenlee with a 7-2 decision win to earn his first state championship. Hopefully that's the first of many winning performances for him against opponents from Ames over the next few years. Liddle would be a pretty highly sought after heavyweight recruit if he was interested in pursuing wrestling in college, but he's going the football route instead. Given the success of several former standout high school wrestlers at Iowa (Austin Blythe, Tyler Linderbaum, Tristan Wirfs, Matt Roth, James Ferentz, to name a few), it's easy to see why he's making that decision. Just a junior, Liddle will have an opportunity to become a repeat state champion next season.
The most high-profile wrestler at this year's state tournament wasn't any of the Iowa commits in action -- though we hope he may soon become an Iowa commit. Fort Dodge's Drake Ayala has already established himself as one of the top in-state prospects in several years and his performance over the weekend didn't do anything to dispel that hype. After wrestling for a whole three minutes and 16 seconds in the first round (before finishing a 20-5 technical fall), Ayala wrestled just three minutes and thirty-four seconds combined over the next three matches, including the state final. Ayala recorded a pin in 1:40 in the second round, a pin in 1:09 in the semifinals, and polished things off with a pin in 0:45 seconds in the final.
A Class of 2021 prospect, Ayala's dominant performance capped off a run that earned him his second Iowa state championship. He'd almost certainly be a three-time champion bidding to join the four-timers club next season if he hadn't run into Cullan Schriever at the state tournament a few years ago. He'll just have to settle for tearing through the field and becoming one of the most coveted prospects from the state of Iowa in years. Ayala projects at 125/133 in college and would be an ideal replacement for Spencer Lee or Austin DeSanto in a few years; hopefully he feels the same way.
Finally, speaking of the four-timers club, there was one new addition to that crew on Saturday night: Lisbon senior Cael Happel. Happel, who ended his season at 50-0, cruised to his fourth title, with technical falls in the first and second rounds, a 28-second pin in the semifinals and a pin in 3:29 in the state final over Underwood's Logan James. Happel's name should sound familiar -- he's the younger brother of Iowa junior Carter Happel, who was himself a four-time state champion at Lisbon before joining Iowa. That family has a whole lot of state titles, between the two Happel boys and their father:
Congrats, Cael Happel. He'll be competing for UNI in college.