(Corning) -- The granddaddy of them all begins tonight. No, I'm not talking about the Rose Bowl. I'm talking about the 65th Annual John J. Harris Wrestling Tournament in Corning.
Thousands of memories and matches have occurred in Corning since the tournament's first edition in 1956. I'm always amazed every year how smoothly the tournament typically runs. That can not be down without many awesome people from the table workers to those who operate the delicious hospitality room to the junior class that runs the concession stands and many, many more fine folks who make the weekend possible. You guys don't get enough credit, but you rock.
I'll be honest, as a Southwest Valley grad, John J has a special place in my heart. It's actually where I got my start in broadcasting wrestling when I ran Southwest Valley's web-stream. I knew nothing about wrestling but I did the entire 2014 tournament with as much passion and energy as I possibly could.
Six years later, I still know nothing, but here I am.
I could probably write 2,000 words on the John J. Tournament without even previewing this weekend, but you don't want that. You deserve the promised breakdown, but first, a look at the history books of John J.
As I said, this year is the 65th edition. The tournament started in 1956 and the team champion was Leon. Not Central Decatur, just plain ole Leon. Audubon won the tournament's second edition. There were some other interesting team champions in the early years including Des Moines Tech, Roosevelt, Bloomfield and Greenfield.
There has also been some impressive stretches of dominance. Griswold won five tournaments from 1976 to 1984. My broadcast colleague Steve Baier was the head coach for the last two of those teams. When Griswold wasn't dominating during that stretch, Winterset was. The Huskies won six titles from 1977 to 1989 including four out of five from 1985 to 1989. The Huskies also had runs of dominance in the 90s' and 2000s. They won four titles in the 90's and four from 2000 to 2005, including three in a row from 2000 to 2002.
Glenwood was another player at John J in the late 80s' and into the 90s'. The Rams won titles in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1998 and 1999. Interestingly enough, Winterset won the title in 1989 but Glenwood won the state title that year.
The last 15 years of the tournament have belonged to Creston and Atlantic. Creston has won nine titles since 2004 including five in a row from 2012 to 2016. Atlantic won three in a row from 2009 to 2011 and is the defending champion. However, New Hampton and Missouri Valley had their days, too, claiming the title in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
I'm not sure if you wanted the history lesson about this tournament, but there it is. I felt that this information was really neat when it was passed along to me. Huge thanks to Southwest Valley Athletic Director Allen Naugle for sending me the full list of champions. I can only imagine how difficult this was to compile because I don't think spreadsheets were a thing in 1956.
Now, time to break down this week's tournament, shall we?
Teams participating include AC/GC, Atlantic-CAM, Bedford-Lenox, Central Decatur, Clarinda, Clarinda Academy, Clarke, Creston, East Mills, Griswold, Missouri Valley, Mount Ayr, Nodaway Valley, Panorama, Red Oak, Riverside, Southwest Iowa, Southwest Valley, Tri-Center, Wayne and Winterset.
All rankings come from IAWrestle.
Ranked Wrestlers: 1A No. 8 John Schroder (Riverside)
Schroder is currently ranked at 106 pounds, but he's wrestled most of the season at 113. However, he did wrestle at 106 last weekend, so I have a hunch the former state qualifier has made the move down to stay. I like his chances this weekend to capture the tournament title but Mount Ayr's Drew Ehlen and Winterset's Travis Allen could also factor into things.
Ranked Wrestlers: 1A No. 7 Elliott Cooney (Nodaway Valley); 2A No. 9 Aybren Moore (Atlantic-CAM); 1A No. 10 Jace Rose (Riverside)
Cooney is one of the hottest wrestlers in the area right now. The sophomore lost his first match of the season but has since tallied 27 consecutive wins. He made the finals of John J last season but lost to Rose--who has spent most the season at 120. Will Rose bump down so we can see Cooney vs. Rose Part II? I wouldn't be surprised. However, one of them will likely have to get past Atlantic's Aybren Moore, which is no easy task.
This weight class has no ranked wrestlers in this bracket unless Rose bumps up. However, 120 could still have two state medalists if they're both fully recovered from injuries. Mount Ayr's Bryce Shaha has been limited this season due to an early-season injury but he's back into the lineup for the Raiders and is currently 8-1 on the season. Red Oak's Jonathon Erp has had an up-and-down season to this point and did not wrestle at Rollin Dyer due to injury. I have no idea his timeline to return, but he'll be a contender if it's this weekend. Nodaway Valley's Ben Breheny, Panorama's Logan Christe, Southwest Iowa's Kyle Kesterson and Atlantic-CAM's Ethan Follman will also be in the mix.
Another weight class without a ranked wrestler. Tri-Center's Connor Atkisson is a former state medalist and Atlantic-CAM's Joe Weaver was a state qualifier last season. They have yet to meet this season but could in the finals if they get past ACGC's Seth Danker, Wayne's Jakson Cobb or Red Oak's Dawson Bond, who has a win over Cobb this season.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 1 Bryce Hatten (Winterset), 2A No. 10 Gunnar Larsen (AC/GC)
Hatten won the 126-pound tournament title last season and was a state runner-up last season. ACGC's Gunnar Larsen was a runner-up at John J. last season before losing to Hatten's teammate: Kruise Kiburz. Also look for Southwest Iowa's Layne Ettleman, Creston-OM's Garon Wurster and East Mill's Ryan Stortenbecker will also fight to at the very at least make the medal stand.
Ranked Wrestlers: 1A No. 2 Kruise Kiburz (Winterset); 1A No. 6 Trae Ehlen (Mount Ayr)
As I mentioned earlier, Kiburz claimed the title at 132 pounds last season and was a fifth-place medalist at state. Ehlen is wrestling as good as anybody and only has one loss on the season to date. Ehlen vs. Kiburz is a matchup that I'd really like to see in the finals but I also expect Riverside's Nolan Moore to not be an easy out for whoever he likely faces in the semifinals.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 3 Jack West (Winterset)
West was upset in last year's finals by Missouri Valley's Duke Kyle. He's currently ranked at 145 but has wrestled at 152 this season. I have no idea whether he'll suit up at 145 or 152. I'm going to take a guess and say he's right here. Colton Hauschild, Southwest Iowa's winning wrestler in program history, has been wrestling really well as of late and I would not be surprised to see him make a deep run. Actually, he might be the favorite if West bumps up to 152. Him or Emry Colby (Panorama), who is currently ranked by The Predicament.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 5 Wyatt Appleseth (Panorama); 2A No. 9 Tyler Brown (Winterset)
Brown recently made the jump down from 160, so I'm guessing that he will stick here. Which means his teammate West couldn't bump up to 152. Appleseth is currently 22-0 on the season but has not wrestled Brown this season. Other contenders are likely to include Kadin Stutzman (Atlantic-CAM), Jackson Wray (East Mills), who is 22-4 on the season and has been ranked at times this season and Jake Cox (Bedford-Lenox), who is having a strong season at 28-7, but has lost to Wray this year.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 2 Justin McCunn (Red Oak)
Believe it or not, McCunn has yet to win a John J. title. McCunn has taken second two years in a row with a loss to Missouri Valley alum Skeeter Bostwick in 2018 and a one-point loss to Bedford-Lenox's Drew Venteicher last season. Speaking of Venteicher, he beat McCunn in an epic battle two weeks ago. I'm guessing that loss and the fact he's yet to win a John J. title is fresh on McCunn's mind. I have a hunch he could have a dominant tournament. However, I expect Nodaway Valley's Austin Wilson to be a contender, too. Wilson is currently 24-0 on the season and has wrestled really well. We could get a good measurement of Wilson's progression if he ends up facing McCunn.
Ranked Wrestlers: 1A No. 4 Drew Venteicher (Bedford-Lenox); 1A No. 5 Bryson Freeberg (Tri-Center); 1A No. 9 Jon Johnson (Missouri Valley); 1A No. 10 Brody Gordon (East Mills)
This weight class has me all sorts of excited. Venteicher and Freeberg are both undefeated on the season. Venteicher and Freeberg are both state medalists from last year and met last year in the semis at John J, where Venteicher won it en route to the title. Venteicher vs. Freeberg could be worth the price of admission but Gordon and Johnson are ranked for a reason. Johnson beat Gordon at the Tri-Center tournament two weeks ago, while Freeberg holds a wild win over Johnson in the WIC finals. This is going to be fun.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 3 Jackson Kinsella (Creston-OM); 1A No. 7 Nick Haynes (Missouri Valley)
Kinsella has looked almost unbeatable this season. The junior has just one loss on the season and it's to a nationally-ranked wrestler from Oklahoma. Kinsella claimed gold at this tournament last season and seems primed to make a deep postseason run. His momentum towards that could start this weekend.
Haynes has had an up-and-down season, but he's been really on when he's on. He narrowly lost to Kinsella in the finals at 170 last year and he's yet to win a John J. This is his final chance to do it and he can avenge a loss from last season if the process, too. Tri-Center's Gaven Heim, Riverside's Kaiden Hendricks, Clarinda's Jakob Childs, Central Decatur's Tegan Carson and Wayne's Brady Langloss could also be contenders for the title.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 3 Carter Maynes (Red Oak); 2A No. 4 Sam Chapman (Creston-OM)
Maynes has also yet to win a John J title. In fact, he didn't even place his freshman year. He's been wrestling extremely well this season despite working through some injuries. He's already wrestled Chapman this season, where he pinned him in the first period back on December 10th. Southwest Valley's Dalton Calkins will look to get on the medal stand in front of his home crowd but he'll have his work cut out for him. Riversides Edward Vlcek could also be a contender to place high.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 5 Crew Howard (Clarinda)
Last year, Howard caught my eye at John J. when he made a somewhat surprising run to the finals before winning the whole enchilada. Howard has overcome an injury sustained during football season and has yet to lose this season and has a pair of wins over ranked wrestlers already under his belt. Southwest Valley's Tallen Myers is continuing to improve from his district performance last season and could possibly be Southwest Valley's first John J champion since Kallan Schmelzer in 2014. However, Howard beat him a few weeks ago, so he'll have to avenge one of his five losses on the year.
Ranked Wrestlers: 2A No. 7 Cale Roller (Atlantic-CAM)
Roller won this tournament at 220 last year. He told me after his Rollin Dyer victory that winning John J had been the biggest moment of his career. I wonder what winning back-to-back would mean to him. I'm guessing it'd mean something special and he certainly has the opportunity to do so. He's the only ranked wrestler in this class, so he'll come in as the favorite. Missouri Valley's Connor Murray has received some love in The Predicament's ranking and was mere seconds away from winning the WIC Tournament. Other contenders in the heavyweight class are likely to be Alex Ausdemore (Tri-Center), Jared McGregor (Clarinda) and Dugan Tolley (Winterset).
THE TEAM RACE
Winterset enters as the early favorite and rightfully so. I'd say the Huskies are projected to have at least three champions, which is an automatic 48 points not counting bonus points. While Winterset is the favorite, Atlantic-CAM always seems to step up at tournaments and score well. Same for Creston and Missouri Valley. I also expect to see Red Oak, Riverside and ACGC compete for a top-five spot. Here's my guess 1. Winterset, 2. Atlantic-CAM, 3. Missouri Valley, 4. Creston-OM, 5. Red Oak
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter for updates Saturday @TrevMaeder96 and listen to the finals Saturday afternoon with me and Steve Baier on KMA 960.