AUDUBON, Iowa — Audubon didn’t leave anything to chance this time.
After three years of second-place finishes, the wrestling team finally broke through to claim the Western Iowa Conference dual meet title Saturday afternoon. The Wheelers did so by going 7-0 in the two-day meet and celebrating in their own gym, making the experience all the sweeter.
“We were so close last year,” coach Blane Kerkhoff said. “It means a great deal for these kids who have been wrestling hard and practicing hard. We just have to keep working on them believing in themselves. Right now it’s a good movement — up.”
Audubon never had won the dual meet, which began during the 1994-95 season. It lost by six points to Underwood last year and was also runner-up two seasons ago on a criteria tiebreaker.
The Wheelers’ closest call this time was a 42-34 win over Tri-Center on Friday. They rolled Saturday, dispatching two-time defending champ Underwood 57-21 before sailing past Missouri Valley (48-27), Riverside (49-27) and A-H-S-T (63-6).
Riverside would have contended for WIC bragging rights had it beaten the home team. But in their dual, Audubon converted seven pins and cruised despite leaving the 195-pound spot open.
The Bulldogs placed second overall, followed by Tri-Center and Griswold.
“It’s cool that we beat everybody,” Audubon senior Jesse Svoboda said. “It’s nice having the home crowd and knowing where you’re at on your own mats.”
Svoboda, ranked No. 8 at 182 pounds in Iowa Class 1-A, would have had a perfect weekend if not for losing to No. 9 Ben Wellman of Tri-Center. The Audubon senior, along with teammate and 120-pound sophomore Brad Kerkhoff, are the team’s two returning state qualifiers of the five that went to Des Moines last February.
But others have stepped up to fuel the Wheelers, who own a 16-1 dual mark overall. Seniors Kolton Jensen (152) and Heath Irlmeier (126) scored plenty of bonus points, as did junior Chase Petersen (145) and sophomore Trevor Smith (138).
“I thought we’d be competitive coming into the year,” coach Kerkhoff said. “I didn’t know if we’d be this salty or not, but we’ve turned it on.”
Dragging around up to seven open weights for various reasons, Underwood had little chance to defend its title and finished sixth at 3-4. Its two top-rated wrestlers — Taylor Curtis at 106 and Andrew Foutch at 126 — went unbeaten.
In the only other matchup of ranked wrestlers on the weekend, No. 3 Darrian Irlbeck of Tri-Center beat No. 7 Cody Kingery of Underwood 5-0 at 145 pounds.
“It was a nice confidence win,” Tri-Center coach Andy Hensley said. “Overall I think the conference is stronger than it has been. The top five teams are pretty tough.”
Audubon broke through just in time. The school’s athletic director, Randy Spies, said the league will end the dual meet next year in favor of a traditional individual tournament with the addition of Logan-Magnolia and IKM-Manning.
Though only Logan-Magnolia brings a wrestling program, Spies said WIC members determined the existing format would not be realistic with nine participants.
For now, the Wheelers are enjoying the new reality they earned on familiar mats.
“I knew we had a shot at it,” Kerkhoff said. “But Tri-Center and Underwood, they have a lot of open weights right now. We had some tough kids against their tough kids and it worked out.”
Overall results: 1, Audubon 7-0; 2, Riverside 5-2; 3, Tri-Center 5-2; 4, Griswold 4-3; 5, Missouri Valley 3-4; 6, Underwood 3-4; 7, Treynor 1-6; 8, A-H-S-T 0-7.
Results by round: First round: Underwood def. Griswold 41-40, Riverside def. Tri-Center 39-38, Audubon def. Treynor 72-12, Missouri Valley def. A-H-S-T 54-24. Second round: Audubon def. Tri-Center 42-34, Griswold def. A-H-S-T 43-33, Riverside def. Missouri Valley 39-37, Underwood def. Treynor 53-24. Third round: Missouri Valley def. Underwood 42-37, Riverside def. Treynor 70-9, Audubon def. Griswold 46-33, Tri-Center def. A-H-S-T 50-21. Fourth round: Missouri Valley def. Griswold 40-33, Audubon def. Underwood 57-21, Riverside def. A-H-S-T 57-21, Tri-Center def. Treynor 69-12. Fifth round: Treynor def. A-H-S-T 37-36, Tri-Center def. Underwood 51-23, Audubon def. Missouri Valley 48-27, Griswold def. Riverside 43-36. Sixth round: Tri-Center def. Missouri Valley 52-26, Audubon def. Riverside 49-27, Underwood def. A-H-S-T 42-24, Griswold def. Treynor 63-12. Seventh round: Audubon def. A-H-S-T 63-6, Missouri Valley def. Treynor 51-24, Riverside def. Underwood 51-27, Tri-Center def. Griswold 56-21.