Thrice is nice
Bobcats book three tickets for state wrestling tournament
Zach Bitker made up for lost time, even though he nearly ran out of it.
The Marshalltown High School senior 132-pound wrestler brought the Roundhouse crowd to its feet with his thrilling last-second victory over Jack Plagge of Cedar Falls, winning the match for true second place on Saturday at the Class 3A District 8 tournament.
After watching fellow seniors Bennett Hageman (145) and Jordan Anderson (285) earn their state tournament berths through the championship round, Bitker made it a Bobcat trio by saving his best for last.
With less than 10 seconds left in the third period, Bitker (20-8) took down the ninth-ranked Plagge (25-11) and held him there for the 2-1, come-from-behind decision that set off a blue and red celebration.
“I just took a shot and if it worked, it worked, and if it didn’t, it didn’t,” said Bitker. “I wasn’t trying to focus on [the clock] while the match was still going so I just did my best and give it all I got.
“I just felt so happy I didn’t know what to do. I kind of screamed because it felt good and it was a really exciting moment.”
So much so that Marshalltown head coach Mike Mann was jumping up and down in Bitker’s overpopulated corner of the mat.
“When there’s 13 seconds left and they go out of bounds, you’re like ‘oh my goodness,'” said Mann. “All you can do is just keep going and going and going. Bitker said he grabbed that leg and got an adrenaline rush, swept that leg up and that guy’s hip went to the mat, and my feet came off (the mat). Finally we win a match with less than 10 seconds left.
“It’s been a rough year for Bitker, it was good to see him punch his ticket again. That’s a kid who’s been [to state] before, you just want him to get back. It’s awesome.”
Both Bitker and Hageman will be making their second appearances at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Championships starting Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Bitker advanced as a 113-pound sophomore in 2018 and lost a pair of 5-3 decisions, while Hageman went as a 120-pound junior last winter and went 1-2 in his state debut.
Hageman’s road back to state was a unique one, as he wrestled most of the season ranked at 138 pounds before encountering a fierce bracket that prompted him to make the move up to 145. Hageman (21-11) lost his last two regular-season matches at 145 to a pair of ranked CIML foes, but bounced back when it mattered the most.
In Saturday’s district meet, Hageman pinned Newton’s Dakota Borger in 1:22 and then scored a 4-1 decision over Waukee’s Colin Driscoll in the semifinals. In the title bout, Waverly-Shell Rock’s Cayden Langreck withstood a handful of near-takedowns by Hageman and held him off for a 6-4 decision, but Hageman’s win over Driscoll secured him second place and a second-straight trip to state.
“I went 1-2 (at state) last year and my goal throughout the season and throughout the summer was to get on the podium, so I just wanted to get back there and I still have more to prove now,” he said. “We followed it closely all year and just decided it would be best to go to 145 a couple weeks ago.
“It feels good, but I still want to get on the podium, so there’s more to come hopefully. I know I’m going to have to be on top of my game if I want to get on the podium and I need to finish my shots better than I did today.”
Hageman had Langreck (5-0) on the ropes with numerous outside single-leg takedown attempts, but the Bobcat senior was unable to secure the points he needed to tie up the match.
“[Moving up to 145] was something he’d kind of been looking at and obviously from the competition today and the (138-pound finals) match those guys had it was definitely the right decision,” Mann said, “but there was no easy way for him at 145 either. He had his hands full today. We knew he was in the money, he had to wrestle for it and he pulled it off. It was awesome.”
While Bitker and Hageman booked repeat trips to state, the fourth-ranked Anderson earned his maiden voyage as Marshalltown’s lone district champion.
Anderson (26-1) got a first-round bye before pinning Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Xander Eberle in just 52 seconds in the semifinals. In the title bout, Anderson took on seventh-ranked Luke Walker of Waverly-Shell Rock and took him down less than five seconds into the match. Anderson was unable to turn Walker (29-5) to his back but he didn’t let him up, either, and a second-period escape accounted for the last of the scoring.
Anderson pumped his fists, let out a guttoral yell and then started hugging anyone he could get his hands on.
“There’s a lot of people I owed this to that have been helping me and supporting me and just bringing me to this moment,” said Anderson. “I felt so good, I’ve been waiting so long for this and just working so hard and it’s all paid off.”
Anderson went 23-5 as a junior but had the flu during districts and finished as the third heavyweight on the totem pole a year ago, ending up one match shy of advancing to state.
On Saturday the Bobcats punched three tickets to state, each special in their own way.
“Zach because he was hurt or Bennett because it was his second time or Jordan because it was his last chance — all those together, we were hoping all that would come to fruition and it did,” said Mann. “I think that was part of my elation [after Bitker’s win]. It’s been tough. A year ago it was tough, but now he did it.”
Bitker said he benefitted from watching both Hageman and Anderson lock up their spots at state before taking to his match for true second place, helping him overcome a nagging groin injury that cropped up a couple weeks ago.
“It made me feel good and I wanted to join them on the travel to state,” he said. “It just pushed me a little more mentally to go my hardest.
“It feels good and I just want to go to state this year and do better than what I did sophomore year and try to place in the top eight.”
In all, 11 of Marshalltown’s 13 district wrestlers placed in the top five on Saturday. Jay Drummer got bumped up to 152 by Hageman’s move to 145 and responded by earning fourth place, while Coltin Grimm got fifth place at 170.
Sophomore Edgar Almanza took fourth at 106, junior Saul Pantoja was fourth at 126, and seventh-ranked junior Carson Williams was fourth in a star-studded 220-pound bracket. Newton’s second-ranked Gage Linahon knocked off top-ranked Brayden Wolf of Waverly-Shell Rock in the 220 bracket, while Williams fell to Wolf in the semifinals and sixth-ranked Cael Thorson of Waukee in the third-place match, 9-3.
Fifth place went to 113-pound junior Javier Rodriguez, 120-pound freshman Luke Hageman, Grimm, and junior Julian Gomez at 195.
“Obviously if you look at some of the people we’ve wrestled in the conference we’re in against other people’s competition, sometimes that makes it tough to get seeded,” said Mann, “but I thought everybody we had a fair shot at got seeded good. We competed well. They’re underclassmen and they’re getting the experience to be here.
“With the rest of the team finishing with all those fourth and fifth places was totally awesome. Kudos to all those guys. It’s cool just to see all the guys finish out together to the best of their ability.”
Class 3A District 8
Team Standings — 1. Waverly-Shell Rock 262, 2. Waukee 196, 3. Cedar Falls 175, 4. Marshalltown 126, 5. Newton 104.5, 6. Cedar Rapids Xavier 71, 7. Waterloo West 64, 8. Waterloo East 43.
(top two advance to state)
106 — First: Ryder Block (WSR) tech. falled Elijah Hofbauer (WAU), 22-7.
113 — First: Bailey Roybal (WSR) tech. falled Logan Vallejo (CF), 22-6; True Second: Anthony Bestell (NWT) dec. Vallejo, 10-4.
120 — First: Thurman Christensen (WAU) dec. Kaden Karns (WW), 7-3.
126 — First: Jackson Barth (CF) dec. Connor Kelley (WAU), 3-1.
132 — First: Aiden Riggins pinned Jack Plagge (CF), :55; True Second: Zach Bitker (MHS) dec. Plagge 2-1.
138 — First: Dylan Whitt (CF) dec. Christian Stanek (CRX), 2-1 TB1; True Second: Stanek dec. Cole Knight (WW), 10-5.
145 — First: Cayden Langreck (WSR) dec. Bennett Hageman (MHS), 6-4.
152 — First: Evan Yant (WSR) dec. Cody Anderson (WAU), 3-1 SV1; True Second: Anderson pinned Austin Cross (CF), 1:52.
160 — First: Carter Proffitt (WSR) major dec. Jermaine Sammler (WAU), 8-0.
170 — First: McCrae Hagarty (WSR) pinned Tanner Spyksma (WAU), :30.
182 — First: Griffin Gammell (WAU) major dec. Destin Schroder (NWT), 10-2; True Second: Schroder major dec. Jentry Staack (WSR), 10-1.
195 — First: Jake Walker (WSR) dec. Collin Bohnenkamp (CF), 2-0.
220 — First: Gage Linahon (NWT) dec. Brayden Wolf (WSR), 9-7 SV1; True Second: Wolf pinned Cael Thorson (WAU), :55.
285 — First: Jordan Anderson (MHS) dec. Luke Walker (WSR), 3-0.