OTTUMWA — The elite — the best of the best. The chosen few that have rose above the rest in a sport that is as grueling as they come.
Eric Juergens of Maquoketa, Jeff McGinness of Iowa City High, Dan Knight of Clinton, Jeff Kerber of Emmetsburg and Dan Gable of Waterloo West have all done it — and that’s it.
634 matches and no defeats — easily five of the state’s best prep wrestlers to ever don a singlet. Each famed grappler finished their prep careers without a loss.
Evans Middle School got a taste of another legend in the making on Thursday night.
John Meeks of Des Moines Roosevelt is inching closer to joining that aforementioned select company.
Meeks (13-0) is in line to become just the 20th wrestler in the state of Iowa to become a four-time state champ. He’s also carrying with him a 136-0 record after a technical fall Ottumwa’s Karsten VanVelsor in the hyped matchup of the night at 138 pounds.
Meeks earned a 27-9 victory over VanVelsor, a state qualifier as a freshman. That victory helped Roosevelt head coach Jay Groth’s Roughriders roll to a 49-21 CIML Metro Conference opening dual win over Kevin Cochran’s Bulldogs.
Roosevelt has won the Metro championship the past seven seasons.
In that historic winning streak for Meeks, Bulldog fans should be reminded that the Roosevelt superstar almost lost in his first competitive high school match at Evans as a freshman. Meeks squeaked past former Bulldog Josh Greiner, 3-2, in a battle of ranked opponents in Cochran’s first season at Ottumwa.
Since then, it’s been a path to greatness that has defined the future Iowa State Cyclone’s prep career.
“He’s a humble kid and he works hard all year long,” said Groth. “John has no idea what his record is. He knows he’s undefeated.”
Groth, who is in his 18th season at DRHS and has guided the likes of Montell Marion and James and John Nicholson to state titles in his tenure, talked about Meek’s ability to rule on the mat.
“I don’t think we have ever even talked about the undefeated thing,” said Groth. “We stress that you always go out and wrestle to win, then everything else will take care of itself. When you wrestle not to lose, that’s when bad things happen.”
VanVelsor, who is one of several wrestlers who could join Meeks up at state, didn’t back down from the big-time challenge to take on the heralded three-time title holder.
“The key is you can’t be scared of him. Karsten is never really scared of anybody, which is one thing I like about him,” said Cochran.
Ottumwa got a victory from freshman Nathan Cary, who is racking up the wins at 106 pounds. Cary, who is 14-5 according to Cochran, stuck Jayden Jewett to cut the Roughriders’ lead to 24-12.
“He does what the sport is meant to do. He gets excited about winning and upset about losing,” said Cochran. “It’s just nice to see a freshman have the success he’s having.”
Ottumwa wouldn’t win again until Shawn Foster dominated Jake Harman with a pin in 1:49 at 132. Foster, a junior, has been slowed by injury this season but looked good on this night.
Ottumwa sophomore Sky Holmgren gutted out a 7-4 victory at 145 pounds for Ottumwa’s final win of the night.
Ottumwa’s Conner Mier, a sophomore, easily pinned John Kluding at 195 in just 46 seconds in the fourth match of the evening.
OHS sophomore Tad Howard competed in his first action of the year at 160 pounds. He lost to Shawn Randolph by fall in the second period. Randolph was ranked early in the year. Bulldog junior Skylar Genners fought hard in a 7-2 loss at 170 pounds, as did senior Emanuel Guevera at 220 pounds. Guevera was nipped by Tyler Lewis 2-1. OHS sophomore Dakota Durbin competed hard at 126 pounds in an 11-4 loss to Benton McClaran at 126 pounds.
Roosevelt improved to 5-8 in dual competition and Ottumwa fell to 1-7.
Now it’s on to the Bulldogs’ home invite this Saturday.
The invite is a little different than the standard double-elimination tournament format. Wrestlers will compete in two pools of round-robin action, with the top two competitors advancing to the championship bracket. The No. 3 and No. 4 wrestlers compete in the consolation bracket.
“You could have two kids go 0-4 on the day and still go home with a win,” said Cochran.
Powerhouse West Des Moines Valley is back to compete in the invite this year. Other teams in attendance are Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Burlington, Des Moines Lincoln, Newton, Fairfield and Davenport North.
“The invite is a good test for us. They’re some teams we can compete with,” said Cochran. “The kids are going to get multiple victories.”
The Ottumwa Invite always signals that district competition and the state tournament are drawing closer every day.
“It’s all about February,” said Cochran.
Des Moines Roosevelt 49, Ottumwa 21
106 — Nathan Cary (O) won by fall over Jayden Jewett 2:53. 113 — Jake Kristensen (R) won by fall over Theron Morrison 1:35. 120 — D’Riece Shirley (R) tech. fall 16-1 over Garrett Goodwin. 126 — Benton McClaran (R) dec. 11-4 over Dakota Durbin. 132 — Shawn Foster (O) won by fall over Jake Harman 1:49. 138 — John Meeks (R) tech. fall 27-9 over Karsten VanVelsor. 145 — Sky Holmgren (O) dec. 7-4 over Ago Huskic. 152 — Mike Groth (R) won by fall over Chase Wood 4:49. 160 — Shawn Randolph (R) won by fall over Tad Howard 3:51. 170 — Chandler Thompson (R) dec. 7-2 over Skylar Genners. 182 — Sawyer Kochel (R) won by fall over Bradley Williams 1:10. 195 — Conner Mier (O) won by fall over John Kluding :46. 220 — Tyler Lewis (R) dec. 2-1 over Emanuel Guevara. HWT — Romier Loggins (R) won by fall over Kevin Childs 2:59.