Courtesy of the Des Moines Register
FORT DODGE, Ia. – Jason Christenson tried to portray Thursday as another run-of-the-mill dual meet for Southeast Polk wrestling, but the overflowing parking lot, the jam-packed bleachers and the laser light show introductions painted a different picture.
This was far bigger than an ordinary dual meet. It was the biggest dual in decades around here.
Forget the CIML implications and the battle for conference supremacy. This was a scrap for the top spot in the state rankings with those who handle the national polls tuning in to figure out where the Rams and Dodgers fit in beyond Iowa borders.
The rankings stuff won't get sorted out for a few more days, but on Thursday inside a gym with a spillover crowd, Christenson's No. 3 Rams used their overwhelming depth to dump the No. 1 Dodgers 36-27.
"We just looked at it as another dual meet," Christenson said. "If we proved anything, it was that we've got depth and that we're not going away. (Second-ranked) Valley can be the best team in the state all year long until the third week in February and I'd be happy with that. Don't put us up there. We like where we're sitting."
The Rams ripped off eight match victories and produced pins in four to overcome the individual firepower that made Fort Dodge the top-ranked team in the state and the No. 28 squad in InterMat's Fab 50 national poll.
Southeast Polk finished last season ranked seventh in the same poll after sweeping the state championships. But the Rams lost seven state medalists off last year's title team.
"They were all studs," said 152-pounder Solomon Jones, a senior getting his first crack as a varsity starter. "We had something to prove. Half our lineup came out of JV last year. It's pretty cool."
Southeast Polk has no ordinary JV program, though. To the Rams, JV stands for "Jeff's Varsity", the squad operated by assistant Jeff Evans. It's not uncommon for Evans to take a team of backups to a small school varsity tournament and lug home a title trophy.
This year, the Rams have 88 wrestlers on their high school roster. Christenson said nearly half stood before the team at beginning of the season and said their goal was simply to make the JV squad.
"Junior varsity wrestling at Southeast Polk means something, and these guys have been battling," said Christenson, whose varsity team is ranked 16th nationally by InterMat. "They've had great kids before them in the lineup and they've had some patience, which not every kid has in today's world, and they've stuck it out. Now when they get a chance to perform they take advantage of it."
The Rams also picked up a key upset at 138, where Cody Batterson, an unranked senior who qualified for the state meet in 2014 and spent last season on the JV, toppled No. 4 Cole Detmering 8-4.
Batterson's victory came at a critical point. Fort Dodge had closed the Southeast Polk lead to 15-13 after collecting bonus points from Drew Bennett (106), defending state champ Brody Teske (113) and second-ranked Triston Lara stirred the home crowd by knocking off No. 1 Nathan Lendt 7-4 at 126.
"It was really loud," Lara said. "Everything that happened in the match, (the crowd) gave you that extra little go. It was awesome. Awesome environment. Strong Fort Dodge crowd. It doesn't get much better than that. It was the most people I've ever seen in this gym."
Lara said the Dodgers "could've brought the fight a little bit more, but it's only December."
True, there's two months left in the season. But this didn't feel like a normal December dual.
"They put on a show," Christenson said. "It was a production from the very beginning. It made it a lot of fun to wrestle. Sometimes it's fun to come into somebody else's gym when it's this type of production. We kept it pretty low key with our kids and said, 'Let's go have some fun, let's go scrap and see where we're at right now.'"