The buzzer is about to sound, marking the end of another year. The last year has provided its share of excitement and on (and off) the mat. Here is my list of top-10 moments/stories from the previous year.
10. Hathaway halts history, makes his own
Iowa City West's Jack Hathaway played a role in preventing Southeast Polk's Cory Clark from joining the most elite group of Iowa prep wrestlers. Hathaway scored a last second takedown in the 126-pound championship of Urbandale's Ed Winger Classic in January, handing Clark his only loss as a prep. Clark avenged the loss with a 3-0 win at the state tournament, but he did not join the likes of Dan Gable, Jeff Kerber, Dan Knight, Jeff McGinness and Eric Juergens. Des Moines Roosevelt's John Meeks, however, did complete his undefeated prep career in February. The win allowed Hathaway to reach a rare feat. He finished with 200 career wins, becoming just the second Iowa high school wrestler to reach the win plateau, sitting seven wins back of Centerville's T.J. Sebolt.
9. West Branch makes most of duals debut
West Branch advanced to the state dual tournament for the first time in school history in February. The Bears and head coach Marc Juergens weren't satisfied with just reaching the state duals competition. Entering the field as the eight-seed, essentially a projection to finish last, West Branch turned the field upside down, knocking off top-seeded Clarion-Goldfield, 40-24, in the quarterfinals. In an event where many teams sat starters, Clarion-Goldfield field its top team until the Bears had the win in hand. West Branch was powered by a five-match win streak, which included wins over highly-ranked foes by 195-pounder Cade Jones and 220-pounder Derrick Miller. The Bears (23-3) finished third, beating perennial power Don Bosco, 39-30, in the final round.
8. Lisbon under the spotlight
The Lisbon program saw the good and bad attention can bring in 2012. The year started with the Lions surrounded by controversy when a freshman wrestler accused teammates of harassment and assault. Wrestlers were suspended, and at least one reinstated. The situation eventually was settled in court with four wrestlers facing charges ranging from misdemeanor assault to third-degree assault and harassment. Two more incidents surfaced - at Nodaway Valley and at Sioux City North - creating a brief black-eye to the sport. The Lions received more favorable attention in the last half of the year when Hall of Fame wrestling coach Brad Smith returned to lead the program. Smith, who retired from his teaching and coaching position at Iowa City High at the end of the 2011-12 school year, led the Lisbon program for 13 years before taking over the Little Hawk program in 1991. Smith guided Lisbon to 10 state titles, completing traditional and duals state championship sweeps in 1987 and 1988. He has coached 41 state champions, 124 state medalists and 222 state qualifiers in more than 30 years of coaching.
7. Final Iowa Conference tournament held at Coe
The end of an era occurred at Coe's Eby Fieldhouse in February. The Iowa Conference held what appears to be its final IIAC Championships with NCAA Division III switching to regional qualifiers for the 2012-13 season. The 60th Iowa Conference tournament concluded with Wartburg continuing its domination, winning its 20th straight conference crowns and 30th overall, including two shared titles (Luther in 1954, Upper Iowa in 1960). The Knights crowned six champions, topping runner-up Coe, 193.5-157. The host Kohawks received three titles from former Gazette preps Jordan Westfall (133), Dale Handley (157) and Nick LeClere (165). Wartburg co-head coaches Jim Miller, who is retiring at the end of this season, and Eric Keller, who will move into the position alone, were named Coach of the Year and Loras' Joe Wood, who stormed his way to the 149-pound title, was named Outstanding Wrestler.
6. Coe produces best finish in school history
The Coe wrestling program has ascended to new heights under Coe Coach John Oostendorp. The 2011-12 campaign was indicative of his work leading the Kohawks. Coe placed third at the NCAA Division III Championships in La Crosse, Wis., in March. It was the highest team finish in school history and fourth straight year Coe placed in the top five, including three straight fourth-place showings from 2008-2010. Six Kohawks earned All-America honors, including finalists Jordan Westfall and Nick LeClere. Jimmy Gotto (125), James Locke (149), Dale Handley (157) and 174-pounder Scott King also reached the podium. The third-place national finish is the second best finish of any Kohawk athletics team, coming in behind the 2009 softball team's national runner-up performance.
5. Witte wins second straight title, closes prep career with long win streak
With his head and wrist bandaged, Cedar Rapids Prairie's Zach Witte demonstrated that defined his personality and prep career. Witte defeated Southeast Polk's Dylan Blackford, 5-3, for the Class 3A 152-pound state title, capping a second straight perfect season with his 67th consecutive win. Witte's career as a Hawk was a series with one valley. He was a three-time finalist, finishing as a runner-up as a freshman. Witte is believed to be Prairie's first three-time finalist since Barry Davis won three titles from 1978-80. As a sophomore, Witte went from state finalist to spectator, placing third at district behind eventual state champion Cody Caldwell, of Waverly-Shell Rock, who is now teammates with Witte at University of Northern Iowa, and Marshalltown's Gustavo Martinez. Witte opened his senior campaign with a broken wrist suffered before the season, but overcame the injury to become the Hawks first two-time state champ since Matt Hatcher in 1991-92.
4. Matt McDonough secures second NCAA title
Matt McDonough catapulted to the upper echelon of college wrestling by winning the 125-pound NCAA title as a freshman, but then served as a springboard the following year, helping propel Arizona State's Anthony Robles into national limelight. Replays of the victory by Robles, who was born with one leg, were reminders of coming up short. McDonough responded with one of his best seasons, despite his first college dual loss early in the season. McDonough went 36-1 with 23 wins by major, technical fall or pin - both are second to his totals as a freshman. He also notched his second Midlands Championship before earning both Big Ten and NCAA titles in the same year for the first time. McDonough posted two pin and two major decisions at the NCAA Championships in March in St. Louis, Mo., and finished the title trek with a 4-1 win over Penn State's Nico Megaludis. Now, the three-time state champion from Linn-Mar has a chance to reach his fourth national finals capture his third championship at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
3. State Duals: To wrestle or not to wrestle
The Iowa High School Athletic Association made the decision to change the state tournament format for the 2011-12 season. The traditional state tournament returned to a three-day event with the State Duals moved from the weekend after to the Wednesday before the individual competition. Both were at Wells Fargo Arena. The State Duals created controversy when a number of teams decided to sit starters, including top-seeded Southeast Polk. The Rams were heavy favorites to win their first state title in any boys' sport, but opposed the state scheduling so much they held out starters the entire tournament. Linn-Mar sat its starters as well. Some others wrestled state qualifiers sparingly or sat them once the team dropped into the loser’s bracket that was wrestled to eighth place for the first time. The result was some lopsided final-round duals, including Bettendorf's 75-6 drubbing of West Des Moines Valley, which sat its starters for the Class 3A finals. Three of the four placing-round duals in 3A were decided by 34 points or more. The saving grace of the tournament was the 2A championship that came down to the final minute of the final match, ending in Davenport Assumption's 32-30 win over West Delaware.
2. Ramos drops Oliver
Tony Ramos stepped to center mat in front of 15,400 spectators at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but his trademark stare from his wrestling stance wasn't directed at a common foe. Ramos' focus was fixed on Oklahoma State's defending NCAA champion Jordan Oliver, who many consider one of the top college wrestlers, regardless of weight. Ramos ignited the CHA crowd when he notched a 4-3 victory in the first tiebreaker of overtime, leading to a roar many compared to the memorable pin by Hawkeye Brooks Simpson against Iowa State's Eric Voelker. Ramos scored a late third-period takedown against Oliver, who escaped to force overtime. Ramos scored a penalty point in the first 30-second tiebreaker period, riding Oliver the following 30-second period. A celebratory flex by Ramos provided an exclamation point to the win. “I got excited,” Ramos said. “Probably a little over-excited. You just have to do your job and prepare for next week.” Thousands of others were just as excited, but that waned when Oklahoma State edged Iowa, 17-16, receiving a point on criteria to snap Iowa's 84-dual unbeaten streak.
1. Iowa City plays golden host to Olympic Trials
The most prestigious amateur wrestling competition in the United States came to one of college wrestling's best venues. The University of Iowa and Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted the 2012 USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials in 2012 and produced a fantastic display in April, celebrating the sport and its competitors of the past, present and future. It also helped bring in more than 11,000 fans from outside of Johnson County, making an estimated $5.6 million economic impact on the area. There was a Fan Fest, previous Olympic teams were recognized and a statue of former Olympic Gold medalist, former Hawkeye coach, Iowa State NCAA champion and Waterloo native Dan Gable was presented outside of CHA. The weekend's competition unofficially opened with a dual between the USA Dream Team and Team Iowa, featuring some of the best high school seniors in a packed Iowa City west gymnasium. The country's top men and women freestyle and Greco-Roman wresters competed in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, vying to represent the USA at the Olympic Games held in London, England. The event, stocked with many Hawkeyes, cyclones and other wrestlers with Iowa ties, set overall and single-session attendance marks, attracting more than 54,000 spectators over four sessions including 13,712 for the final session. Fans watched Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner secure their Olympic team spots before advancing to capture gold for the USA during the summer. The likes of Gable, Les Steenlage, Josh Schamberger, Mike Duroe, Lincoln McIlravy, Tom and Terry Brands and others should be commended for luring USA Wrestling to Iowa City and for putting on a memorable show for wrestlers and fans.