R-S exceeds expectations after slow start: Norse wrestlers produce first state champion since 1996
Roland-Story entered the 2020-2021 facing uncertainty due to COVID-19, but the season ended with one of the greatest individual accomplishments in program history and a lot of momentum for the future.
The season began with COVID cases rising in the state, forcing several programs to hold off on competition. Roland-Story had to miss out on its opening meet at Bondurant as a precautionary measure.
“It was a challenge for sure, but all teams had to deal with it,” Roland-Story head coach Leland Schwartz said. “Wrestling teaches you how to overcome challenges, so this was another opportunity to show mental toughness and resilience.”
Fortunately for the Norsemen they only missed two more meets the entire season – the Saydel Invite on Dec. 17 and a home dual with Nevada. Both of those were canceled due to inclement weather.
Roland-Story ended up 15-13 in dual meets. The Norsemen were 4-2 against Heart of Iowa Conference competition.
The Norsemen placed third at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet held Jan. 22 at Jefferson, improving on their seventh-place finish from a year ago.
“The season started off very rough - we had a lot of guys miss time at the beginning of the season for various reasons, and we lost our first seven duals,” Schwartz said. “We didn't get our full lineup until mid-January, but once we did, we were able to turn things around. We were happy with those finishes, but obviously would have liked to have finished higher.”
In the postseason Roland-Story advanced four wrestlers to districts from the Class 2A sectional meet at Iowa Falls. From there two Norsemen moved onto state and one became the school’s first state champion in 25 years.
Freshman Kade Blume was Roland-Story's state champion. Blume went 44-1 at 106 pounds with 21 pins and three victories by technical fall.
Blume’s only loss of the season came to Webset City’s Carson Doolittle. Blume defeated Doolittle at both sectionals and districts then again in the state semifinals – the latter coming by a 3-1 decision.
In the 2A championship match at 106 Blume downed Williamsburg’s Gavin Jensen by sudden victory, scoring a takedown with 29 seconds left for a 6-4 victory to become the Norsemen wrestler to win state since Luke Sampson in 1996.
“Kade has everything that you need to be successful,” Schwartz said. “He works extremely hard and is willing to put in the time to get better. He wants to get better and takes the steps to do it. He also has the right mindset that is needed. He would be a little nervous leading up to a big match, but it was never too big of a moment for him.”
“Once the match started, his training took over,” Schwartz said. “Even with all the success he remained humble and calm. Winning the state tournament was a goal that he set for himself, and he is proud of that accomplishment. But he knows that he needs to keep working to improve as a wrestler.”
Christian Eslick was the other state qualifier for the Norsemen. The sophomore followed up a 36-4 freshman season by going 36-5 at 145 and making state for the first time.
Eslick led Roland-Story in pins with 24. He also had one victory by technical fall.
Eslick also ended up on the medal stand at state. He finished eighth at 145 in 2A with a 2-3 record at Wells Fargo Arena.
“After not making the state tournament last year, he committed to working hard in the offseason,” Schwartz said. “He really bought into lifting weights and getting stronger and he definitely bulked up and is so much stronger now than he was last year. He also worked extremely hard to improve as a wrestler. Both Kade and Christian are very coachable, taking in anything that we tell them.”
Freshman Logan Powers and junior Eli Thorson were Roland-Story's other district qualifiers.
Powers went 27-8 with 18 pins at 120. Thorson missed out on most of the season, but he was able to wrestle well when he got on the mat, going 11-6 with five pins at 182.
Ben Sarver ended a strong senior season at 113 with a 22-10 record and six pins. Freshman Hesston Johnson went 20-10 with 10 wins by fall at 152.
Junior Jay Sanderson went 19-12 with 13 pins at 138. Senior Jackson Sterle also posted a winning record, ending up 16-14 at 170 with eight pins.
Junior Colin Hansen was 14-18 at 285, freshman Jaxson Kadolph 12-23 at 195 and freshman Aaron Peyton 11-21 at 220. Senior Dylan Kahl won nine matches at 160 and junior Colin Streit six at 126.
Freshmen Noah Wakefield and Thomas Tjaden each won five matches for the Norsemen.
“We knew that our freshman class this year was very solid and they delivered beyond expectations,” Schwartz said. “In addition to Kade, Logan Powers had an outstanding season and just missed out on a trip to state. Hesston Johnson missed the first part of the season due to injury, but he had an incredible season as well. Our other four freshmen got valuable experience in the varsity lineup and we are excited for their future in the program as well.”
Roland-Story will miss Sarver, Sterle and Kyhl next season. The Norsemen will also miss the leadership of Caden Sporleder, who couldn’t wrestle this year due to an ACL injury.
“Our seniors were awesome this year,” Schwartz said.
But with such a strong group of underclassmen returning the Norsemen have high hopes for 2021-2022.
“Things look really good,” Schwartz said. “We return 12 letterwinners and seven wrestlers who had a winning varsity record, including our two state placewinners. We are set up to have a really good season and I look for us to contend for the HOIC title.”