Top-ranked Southeast Polk takes down No. 3 Valley
Southeast Polk has gone so long now without a loss to a conference opponent that even head coach Jason Christenson can't remember the last time a CIML program took down the Rams.
To be exact, it's been six years since Urbandale handed Southeast Polk its last conference defeat, and it's been nearly as long since the Rams strategized their way to a dual win.
As his program has risen from conference contender to national power, Christenson has gotten away from putting pen to paper and forecasting a dual. He's not into shuffling his lineup pieces around, either, to optimize his team's chances of capturing a regular-season win.
It's a simplistic approach and one Christenson employed Saturday when the top-ranked Rams kept their unbeaten run against CIML opposition intact by downing No. 3 Valley 34-23 in the finals of the Valley Duals.
"We have what we have, and if you're better than us, OK — especially during the regular season," Christenson said. "We're going to wrestle our kids at the weight they belong at — for the most part — and see where we stack up, because this really doesn't mean a whole lot.
"If we're not good enough, we'll go work on it. If we are, we're still going to work on it."
The Rams still have four weeks to polish up for the postseason, but Saturday's performance, along with last month's dual win at then-No. 1 Fort Dodge, cemented Southeast Polk's front-runner status for next month's state duals.
"We won both of them and there's still things we can work on," Southeast Polk 138-pounder Zach Barnes said. "I feel like it only gets better from here as long as we stay focused. They have improvements they can make, too, but I feel like we can make the adjustments better than them."
Valley entered Saturday's dual undefeated and mowed down its first three opponents — Spencer, Cedar Falls and Council Bluffs Lewis Central — by a collective 195-9 count. But after losing just three matches in their first three duals, the Tigers watched Southeast Polk seize control by reeling off three consecutive bonus-point victories early and slamming the door late with a 13-7 victory from No. 1 Ethan Andersen against No. 2 Rocky Lombardi and a pin from heavyweight Daniel Ramirez.
"I thought our kids wrestled hard. They just out-wrestled us in some key places," said Valley coach Travis Young, whose team entered Saturday ranked No. 32 nationally in the InterMat Fab 50, two spots behind the Rams. "I think we learned a lot. It was a great dual to have. We learned a lot of things we need to improve upon."
After Valley's Grant Stotts ended the run with a 3-1 win against Cody Batterson at 132, Barnes, who recently moved up a weight class, registered a 24-9 technical fall at 138 against Noah Carr.
In retrospect, though, Christenson said the bout that tipped the dual in Southeast Polk's favor happened at 152, where Solomon Jones held off Joe Nicholson 5-4 to interrupt a string of Valley major decision wins from Joel Shapiro (145), Jake Koethe (160) and Austin Stotts (170).
"(Jones is) pure guts," Christenson said. "He's going to get out-athleted. He's going to get out-strengthed. He's going to get out-quicked. But he's not going to give up. He's going to keep fighting."
Jones credited the survival skills he developed as a fifth-string freshman in helping him fend off Nicholson in the final minute.
"There's a thought that comes into your mind: This guy's not better than me, and there's no way he's going to score just because I'm tired," Jones said.