PCM's Wheeler brings back state wrestling hardware

Feb. 20—DES MOINES — PCM sophomore Tucker Wheeler was ranked in the top six of Class 2A's 144 pounds for most of the season.

So when other grapplers in Wheeler's bracket at the state wrestling tournament saw him listed as the 12th seed, they most likely were not happy about it.

Two of those state-ranked wrestlers found out the hard way as Wheeler won his first three matches of the tournament to advance to the state semifinals and then collected his first state medal on Saturday after finishing in fourth place.

"The seeds we are using for the state tournaments work for a few brackets, but they didn't work for most brackets," PCM head wrestling coach Jeff Nicholson said. "Tucker just had tougher matches quicker in the tournament, but he always knew he could win those matches. At some point you have to wrestle those guys anyway."

Tucker Wheeler

Wheeler was the only medalist for the Mustangs. Senior Hewitt Brinegar won three matches at 150, sophomore Kaliber Fry was 2-2 at 113 and Remington Fry lost both of his matches at 138.

Wheeler opened his tournament with a win by fall over Connor Christopher of Eagle Grove.

He led Christopher (40-16) 9-2 after the first period following three takedowns and three near fall points. The lead got to 12-2 before Wheeler earned the pin with 39 seconds into the second.

That set up a second-round matchup with fifth-ranked Austin Evans of Creston.

Evans (43-7) defeated Wheeler by a narrow decision at districts and led the Mustang sophomore 5-0 in the rematch. But Wheeler scored a late takedown in the second to close the gap to 5-3 and then rallied for a 6-5 win after collecting a takedown along the edge of the mat in the third period. Evans finished seventh in the tournament.

"My mindset is to keep working hard, always keep going, always scoring in your next position and trusting that the hard work I put in will be enough," Wheeler said. "According to my seed, it's a pretty big win. But I can't do anything about my seed."

Sixth-ranked Wheeler (50-6) registered an even bigger win in the quarterfinals. He trailed third-ranked Jackson Jaspers of Mount Vernon 2-0 early before rallying to win 4-3.

The match was scoreless after one period, but Jaspers (39-6) took a 2-0 lead on a reversal in the second. Wheeler got an escape point to close the gap and got in on a shot late in the second but couldn't finish.

In the third, Wheeler tied things up with an escape and then scored the winning takedown with 45 seconds to go.

"There was a gameplan in place," Nicholson said about the comeback wins. "Coach Wheeler and Tucker had a good game plan that he did follow. The biggest thing is to keep the pace high. It's going to be rare that anyone matches his pace. So eventually, if you do that, something is going to open up."

Hewitt Brinegar

Wheeler faced top-ranked Anders Kittleson of Osage in the semifinals and lost by fall in the second period. He trailed Kittleson (44-0) 6-2 in the first before losing in the second. Kittleson went on to win the state title.

Wheeler advanced to the third-place match following a first-period pin against 10th-ranked Carter Lamont of Vinton-Shellsburg. Wheeler led Lamont (31-12) 2-1 at the time of the pin.

"He knew how hard it was from last year. Every single match down here is tough," Nicholson said. "Nothing is easy down here. He battled for every round, too."

The third-place bout was a rematch against Jaspers. This time, the Mount Vernon standout jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 5-1 before Wheeler rallied to tie the score.

Wheeler's takedown with 10 seconds to go in the second made it 5-4 and an escape in the third tied the match at 5-all.

Jaspers edged Wheeler 7-5 after scoring the winning takedown with 36 seconds to go in the match.

"I thought it was a tough matchup coming in because it's tough to beat a kid that good again," Nicholson said. "It would have been nice to face someone new, but when you get this far in the tournament, you face the best and you don't get to choose your opponent.

"That third-place match was back and forth and the kid got a late takedown on the edge. It was a great job by that kid, but that match could go either way every time they wrestle."

Brinegar, who finished the season ranked 11th at 150, opened his tournament with a 10-4 win over Decorah's Kollin Henry.

Brinegar led Henry 2-0 after the first period, but Henry (23-18) tied it up with a reversal. Brinegar took the lead with an escape and then extended the margin to 5-2 after a collecting a takedown with 20 seconds left in the period.

Henry eventually trimmed his deficit but never got closer than 10-4 the rest of the way.

Kaliber Fry

After losing 8-0 to 10th-ranked Dirk Boyles (39-7) of Burlington Notre Dame, Brinegar rebounded to pin both Tristan Sinnard (29-16) of Knoxville and Hayden Schafer (28-10) of Eagle Grove.

"This one feels good, moving on to tomorrow is always the goal," Brinegar said. "It was hard to come back after a loss, and it makes you nervous that you could be done. It's intense and the thought of losing and going home is scary.

"I just blocked everything out and focused on my coaches. I'm not really worried about anything else."

Brinegar (48-7) was eventually eliminated by fifth-ranked Mikey Ryan of Mount Vernon. Ryan (44-4) led 4-1 after one and 6-1 after two before going in front 8-2.

Brinegar got an escape point before a takedown late to close the gap, but he lost 8-5.

Boyles finished eighth and Ryan wound up fourth in the weight class.

"This was his final push and he really worked hard at getting on his offense more," Nicholson said about Brinegar. "It's a razor thin edge of the guys who don't make the podium and the guys who make the finals."

Kaliber Fry (38-16) opened his tournament with a win by fall over Cole Bomgaars of Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley. Fry put Bomgaars (26-14) on his back almost immediately after scoring the first takedown of the match.

The Mustang sophomore survived an elimination match against Audubon's Lane Elmquist. He won 15-2 over Elmquist (23-13) before being eliminated by sixth-ranked Evan Erpenbach (37-5) of West Lyon in a consolation match.

Kaliber Fry's other loss came against fifth-ranked Carter West of Burlington Notre Dame. He trailed West (43-2) 8-0 after one period and fell behind 14-2 after two. West finished third in the tournament.

"We expect big things out of Kaliber next year," Nicholson said. "He made some big strides at the end of this year that we are proud of.

"He bought in a little more, made some corrections to a few things, and he beat some really good kids in all classes.

Remington Fry (33-19) had a tough draw as he went 0-2 at 138. He lost by fall to No. 8 Cael Nelson (34-5) of Carroll and was eliminated, 2-1, by No. 9 Jax Miller (33-11) of West Delaware.

"It was pretty neat to get him down here," Nicholson said. "He was just shy of advancing the three prior years. He had a tough draw. It's tough down here. It would have been nice to see him take home some hardware, but it just didn't happen."

Notes: Nicholson said Remington Fry plans to wrestle at Central College next season.

Remington Fry