Bobcat matmen looking for podiums

MHS wrestling quartet set for state tourney

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Marshalltown is sending four boys to compete in the Iowa High School State Wrestling Championships in Des Moines starting today. Pictured are, from left, sophomore Zach Bitker and seniors Brian Trowbridge, Logan Baccam and Decker Mann.

Before the beginning of the season, the Marshalltown wrestling team sat down and made a list of goals, as many teams do to start the year.

On that list were some goals the Bobcats thought more achievable, and others were a bit more grandiose. With the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament starting today, MHS was hoping to get at least a couple representatives in Des Moines, but after a strong showing at districts last week four Bobcats will be wearing the blue and red at Wells Fargo Arena in the Class 3A competition.

Head coach Mike Mann said he is very proud of what sophomore Zach Bitker and seniors Logan Baccam, Brian Trowbridge and Decker Mann have accomplished so far, and he’s ready to see them wrestle at The Well.

“It is very exhilarating and you just never know what is going to happen,” he said. “We are pretty stoked, it’s been a good season, we were 9-9 in duals and basically half our team had over 20 wins. It’s been a good season so far.”

This is the first time MHS has sent four wrestlers to state since the 2016 tournament, and that was the first time that had happened in a little over a decade. None of the Marshalltown wrestlers are ranked in the top-10 by either of the ranking metrics, but Mann said that’s not a bad position to be in, considering no one expects any of the Bobcats to make much noise.

“You always say you want a good draw, well what’s a good draw?” Mann asked. “Every guy there is a district champ or second, and three of our guys got second so obviously those are all district champs. I am just hoping, when you have to win again, it puts more pressure on the other kids, so our kids really shouldn’t feel any pressure. They’ve got nothing to lose, the guys already beat them, all the pressure is on the other kid. You just have to go down there and try to relax as much as you can, not let the atmosphere get to you and try to have fun.”

Bitker enters as the only bracket winner for Marshalltown from the district tournaments, as he took first at 113 pounds after entering districts as a the third seed. Up first for Bitker is Caleb Helgeson from Johnston, who pinned him in the second period the last time they faced in a dual back in early January. Mann said Bitker has put in the work to find what Helgeson’s weaknesses are, and he needs to just go out and wrestle his match.

“We kind of studied the film the other night, he just wasn’t reacting and he also looked kind of sluggish that night,” Mann said of Bitker’s first match against the No. 6 wrestler at 113. “He wasn’t really moving his feet and lately down the stretch he’s been a lot more aggressive, and when he’s more aggressive instead of setting back and waiting for the guy, he does a lot better. He basically has to be more aggressive and wrestle with a chip on his shoulder, kind of wrestle angry.”

Bitker, who was even watching Helgeson compete at the State Duals Tournament before practice on Wednesday, said he can come away with a victory in the first round if he cleans up his technique.

“I have to watch what he beat me with when we faced in the dual, I need to watch the mistakes I’ve made and not make those again,” Bitker said. “I just have to keep moving and don’t stop my feet, go out there and try my hardest.”

While Mann said Bitker needs to “wrestle angry”, his advice for Baccam at 138 was just the opposite, as he said the senior is best when letting his opponent be the aggressor.

“He has his own certain kind of strategy, meaning he waits for the right opportunity and he’s not aggressive,” Mann said. “90 percent of the time he just kind of stalks and waits for the right moment, as he did in districts running down the stretch late in the period.”

Waiting in the first round for Baccam is Drevon Ross from Fort Dodge, who is ranked 5th by The Predicament and 10th by iawrestle.com. Baccam and Ross have never faced each other before, but Baccam said he does have a feeling on Ross’ skills because of similar opponents they’ve faced.

“We’ve had a common opponent that I beat and he lost to, so that gives me a little bit of confidence there,” Baccam said,

Baccam is relatively new to the team, as he didn’t wrestle for the Bobcats before this year, and now having made it to state Baccam said he would like nothing more than to go back and reverse that decision.

“I wish I would have wrestled last year and the year before that, it could have gotten me to a better spot than I am in now,” he said.

Trowbridge has been a mainstay for Marshalltown wrestling for a few years now, as he narrowly missed a state qualification last season in his junior campaign. Because of his success prior to this year, Mann said he looked to Trowbridge to be a vocal leader on the team, something he has lived up to all season.

“Coming off of last year, you are always looking for the guy who is going to lead the team, and when you return and have some credentials, which he did, you kind of expect him to be the leader,” Mann said. “He has done that all year long, he’s definitely earned what he’s got.”

Trowbridge actually had an interesting path to state, as he actually wrestled at 170 for most of the season before switching down to 160 as the season drew to a close. In 14 matches at 160, Trowbridge is 10-4, with all four losses coming to fellow state qualifiers. He said making that switch down to the lower weight class was actually a blessing because he feels more comfortable at that weight.

“I feel stronger at 160 compared to my opponents,” Trowbridge said. “At first I felt kind of week and it sucks you down, but after I adjusted to it I felt overall stronger.”

Trowbridge will face off with Blake Underwood from West Des Moines Valley in his first match, an opponent he lost to by a sudden-victory decision in the CIML Conference meet earlier this month. Mann said Trowbridge knows what he needs to improve on this time around against Underwood, but he fully expects the No. 9 wrestler in the class to bring a different strategy as well.

“He made a couple of mistakes wrestling the Valley kid, most of it had to do with focusing on the edge of the mat, depending on whether you are going to fight through the position or turn away,” Mann said. “He knows what he did and I am sure they are looking at film too to see how they want to progress.”

Trowbridge said the main thing he is trying to bring into the meet is a more aggressive nature, particularly when it comes to getting takedowns.

“I can probably take more shots than I did, he can move his feet pretty well but I feel like if I keep taking shots and if I’m heavier on his head he will wear down,” Trowbridge said.

Unlike Trowbridge, Decker Mann has no familiarity with his first round opponent in Jaden Heiden from Denison-Schleswig, but he said that lack of knowledge isn’t something he is sweating.

“I have seen nothing on him, I have no idea, I am just going to go wrestle,” Decker said of his first match at 220. “Anything can happen.”

Decker has had a bit of a roller coaster year for the Bobcats, as he started hot but went on a four-match losing streak at the beginning of January. Since then, however, Decker has been a force on the mat, as he currently has won 11 of his last 13 bouts. Coach Mann said Decker has to have a similar approach to Baccam, in that he needs to let things develop in his matches in order to be successful.

“He started out really well then kind of plateaued a little bit,” coach Mann said. “Jeremy [Bjelland], our statistician, was telling me ‘hey, did you know [Decker] has won seven or eight in a row down the stretch?’ For him to be successful, he needs to not be so tentative. He needs to be a little more aggressive, but he wrestles kind of the same way as Baccam, he kind of waits for the right opportunity.”

Wrestling runs in the Mann family, as both of Decker’s older brothers were state qualifiers for MHS, not to mention his uncle and coach Mike who was an All-American at Iowa State. Decker said earning a qualification in his final year definitely helps him when it comes to family relations.

“It’s kind of a relief, my brothers would always say stuff so it feels good to be in the same category as them,” Decker said with a smile.

On paper, none of the Marshalltown wrestlers are predicted to make it far in state, but then again most of them weren’t predicted to even be in the tournament. Coach Mann said his ultimate goal would be to see all of his guys up on the podium, but that feat really isn’t up to him to accomplish.

“My goal is that we have four place winners,” he said. “After that it’s really not in my control, it’s going to be up to the kids and if they are on their game we will come away with four medal winners. We haven’t done that since 2003, so that would be absolutely huge.”

The Bobcats will start off their path toward state glory today in the Iowa High School State Wrestling Championships, with 3A matches starting at 1:30 p.m.