Make it a double
Caleb Meinders, Nick Meling win their second NICL?Conference titles
PARKERSBURG — More important than making it back to the top of the podium is making it back to Wells Fargo Arena.
Despite being on opposite ends of the weight classes, senior wrestlers Nick Meling of East Marshall/GMG and Caleb Meinders of AGWSR can agree on that much.
That didn’t stop both from collecting their second North Iowa Cedar League championship medals on Saturday at the conference meet. Meling, who won the 106-pound bracket as a freshman, claimed the 120-pound title in his last go-round, while Meinders successfully defended his 220-pound crown.
Meling, ranked eighth at 126 in Class 2A by The Predicament, climbed to the top of the 120-pound division with a trio of wins on Saturday to improve to 34-4 for the season. He racked up a 17-1 technical fall of Dike-New Hartford’s Grant Bixby, beat Union’s Payton Hellman 5-1, and then held off No. 8 Blake Steege for an 8-5 decision in the championship bout. Meling led 5-2 going into the third period, escaped and scored another takedown with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining before weathering Steege’s late push.
It was the fourth all-conference medal for Meling, who won the 106 championship as a freshman before placing second at 113 and third at 120 in consecutive seasons. He was able to climb back to the peak of the podium, but it wasn’t imperative.
“I don’t really think of this … it’s not a big deal to me,” Meling said of the conference meet. “It’s not true postseason where it’s going to matter. It’s a good accomplishment but I just think of it as another meet and another chance to get better for the postseason.”
The two-time state qualifier is set on securing a third trip to Des Moines, and now that he’s had success at 120, Mustangs head coach Todd Hinegardner is confident in his senior’s chances. Meling beat Jesup’s Dylan Loomer, 1A No. 2 Gable Fox and Steege in a five-day span earlier this month to kickstart his push toward the postseason.
“He’s done a wonderful job as far as conditioning himself and being a silent leader in the room,” Hinegardner said of Meling. “The last four or five days he’s turned that switch on and that’s what good kids know how to do: when to get themselves peaking. He put himself in a position to win the conference title and then that all leads into sectionals and districts and state.”
Meinders put himself on the same path with his convincing march to a second consecutive 220-pound championship. The AGWSR senior, ranked third in 1A, improved to 27-2 with four wins by fall. The last arrived 13 seconds into the second period of his title bout against Hudson’s Nathan Graves, who Meinders defeated 5-2 in a dual meet nine days earlier. Graves tried to put a cradle on Meinders, who was prepared for the move and countered with a scramble that resulted in a sudden pin of his Pirate counterpart.
“He’s really good at cradles but he couldn’t quite lock it up. I got to a point I could use my momentum and I rolled through, I head-hunted and one thing led to another and I tilted and got my hips up and sacked him,” Meinders said. “That week before I realized he’s a strong wrestler, I’ve got a lot of respect for the kid. When I was reviewing my match with him I knew I’d see him in the finals.”
Meinders wasn’t assuming he would reach the finals again — “Wrestling’s wrestling,” he said, “sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.” — but he figured on squaring off with four opponents he had defeated previously this season and he’s good enough at math to be able to put two and two together.
“The thing with the conference tournament is you don’t really feel the pressure on you,” Meinders said. “If you beat them before, I can beat them again. Being the returning champ is a little pressure on you and the rankings put a target on your back … but it wasn’t really an obligation to win.
“You go out and do you and wrestle hard and don’t wrestle stupid. Sectionals and districts, that’s when it really matters, but when you’re wrestling for the gold medal in the NICL — the toughest conference in the state of Iowa — that’s what it’s all about.”
Meinders and Meling were one of two finalists from their respective programs. East Marshall/GMG’s Noah Bandstra notched his first NICL medal by reaching the 160-pound finals. The sophomore picked up a pair of pins before defeating South Hardin-BCLUW’s ninth
Bandstra (29-10) advanced to the finals, where he was pinned in 1:17 by 1A No. 3 Karsen Seehase (37-1) of Sumner-Fredericksburg. It marked the third NICL title for Seehase, who previously won at 138 and 152.
“Noah’s come a long ways,” said Hinegardner. “He’s been working hard in the room and doing the extra times on Sundays and running. The biggest thing with him is just how to manage a match — breathing technique, when to turn the horsepower up and when to rely on technique. He’s turning the corner on that and competing with some good guys. I would have liked to see him compete a little better with Seehase, but that’s a kid that’s top-three in the state.”
AGWSR’s other finalist was Meinders’ sparring partner Tery Rummans. The Cougar senior secured a spot in the 195 finals with two first-period pins and a 6-3 decision against Sumner-Fredericksburg’s Brock Meyer in the semifinals, but 1A No. 8 Wes Geisler of Hudson handed down his second pin of Rummans in the last nine days. Rummans (14-3) was trailing 5-4 on the scoreboard before being flattened to the mat by Geisler (37-1).
With its only ranked wrestler eliminated by a concussion, South Hardin-BCLUW had to look elsewhere for a finalist. But when senior Ian Showers’ back stiffened up during a semifinal loss at 113, that left freshman 106-pounder Taylor Kolthoff as the Storm’s lone hope of a title. Kolthoff (33-6) marched into the finals with a technical fall, a four-minute pin and an 8-0 decision against AGWSR’s Ali Gerbracht in the semifinals.
In the championship match, Kolthoff and Denver-Tripoli freshman Jacob Moore traded takedowns and near-falls before Moore was annointed champion with an 11-7 decision.
“Taylor had a real nice day, he was real active all day,” said SH-BCLUW coach Mike Olson. “He did what he had to do. He wrestled a good finals match. That kid pinned him earlier in the year so he made a good comeback. He’ll learn from it.”
The Storm emerged as the top local squad, placing seventh with 110.5 points despite missing out on the scoring they expected to get with three senior standouts. Defending 126-pound champion Josiah Dorow, who qualified for state a year ago, was out of action, and DuChane and Showers both defaulted on the back side of the bracket.
SH-BCLUW matched its best finish at the NICL meet thanks to placewinning performances from Kolthoff (second), Owen Fuller (third at 182), Showers (fourth), Coby Willett (fourth at 126), Caleb Engle (fifth at 195), DuChane (sixth) and Mason Dhyne (sixth at 220).
East Marshall/GMG came in ninth with 94.5 points. Dawson Riemenschneider (138) got on the all-conference podium with his third-place result, finishing his day with a 3-1 match record and three pins. His only loss was to eventual champion and fourth-ranked Kaleb Krall of Wapsie Valley.
Cole Nauman (170) and Logan Noe (195) both placed sixth for the Mustangs.
AGWSR compiled 77 points and placed 10th with just six wrestlers and only three placewinners. Two of them (Meinders, Rummans) were finalists, while Ali Gerbracht unofficially became the highest finishing female in the history of the NICL tournament. The freshman 106-pounder and coach Gerbracht’s daughter improved to 19-10 this season with a 2-2 day that ended with a second-period pin of Dike-New Hartford’s Zach Nicol in the fifth-place match.
West Marshall finished one point shy of AGWSR and placed 11th overall with four placewinners. Hunter Pfantz (28-10) led the way for the Trojans by taking third at 113, suffering a hotly contested 2-0 decision to Denver-Tripoli’s sixth-ranked Gabe Lewis in the semifinals before winning twice in consolations to earn third. Jake Vawter (106) and Mason Rudkin (160) placed fourth in their respective brackets, while Chase Burr (145) came in sixth.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck/North Tama rounded out the local teams with a 13th-place finish, scoring 52.5 points with its 11 wrestlers. The RebelHawks were led by lone medalist Noah Skornia, who claimed fourth at 132. His 2-2 day included a pair of pins.
Denver-Tripoli, after finishing no higher than third each of the last four years, resumed its dominance atop the standings with a whopping 258.5 points for first place. The Titans crowned four champions and notched their first NICL championship since 2012 — the last of six-straight league titles.
Dike-New Hartford senior Trent Johnson, ranked first in 1A at 145, racked up his fourth NICL crown with a 6-4 decision against No. 7 Kaleb Boleyn of Waterloo Columbus. Johnson (31-1) was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the conference meet, closing a prep career that included NICL championships at 126, 132 and back-to-back titles at 145.