DES MOINES - Kyle Blocker said he had that 'deer-in-the-headlights' look when he stepped onto these same wrestling mats for the first time as a 112-pound freshman.
Three years later, his goals still haven't changed.
His point of view certainly has.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
West Marshall senior Kyle Blocker, rear, scores near-fall points on Ridge View’s Jason Kenny during their Class 1A 138-pound first-round match Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
Fifth-ranked West Marshall sophomore Dale Hilleman tries to bring Woodbury Central’s Schuyler Rilling back down to the mat during the first period of their 160-pound match in Class 1A action Thursday at the state meet in Des Moines. Hilleman won this match by fall.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
West Marshall junior Devin Chesler, right, takes Alburnett’s Zach Hoyle to the mat in 170-pound action in the first round of the state wrestling tournament Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Blocker, now the top-ranked 138-pounder in Class 1A, improved to 51-0 with his 34th pin of the season in Thursday's opening round of the Iowa High School State Wrestling Championships.
The West Marshall senior has thrown aside all comers this winter, turning his opponents into roadkill just three years after suffering defeat in his first appearance on the floor of Wells Fargo Arena.
His fellow Trojan state qualifiers have done their best to mimic his present-day example, too, and West Marshall is tied for third place in the 1A team standings after the opening day because of it.
1. Alburnett 28, 2. Woodbury Central, Moville 18.5, 3. Emmetsburg 17, 3. W Marshall, State Center 17, 5. West Hancock, Britt 16, 6. St. Edmond, Fort Dodge 13, 7. Eddyville-Blakes-Fre 12, 8. Aplington-Parkersburg 11, 8. Panorama, Panora 11, 10. Wapello 10, 10. Wilton 10, 12. Underwood 9.5, 13. (tie) Clarion-Goldfield, Don Bosco, Sumner-Fredericksburg 9; Also: 73. AGWSR 1.
All five West Marshall wrestlers advanced through the first session of the state meet, four of them with wins in their first-round bouts - three by fall.
Blocker's pin was the quickest, but barely, as fifth-ranked sophomore Dale Hilleman (160) and seventh-ranked junior Devin Chesler (170) also scored second-period pinfall victories. Fifth-rated senior Tanner Arnold (152) was a winner by decision, and No. 5 freshman Cole Needham (113) overcame first-round defeat with a pin of his own in the consolation bracket.
And despite his spotless record, Blocker is refusing to overlook the next step in his last chance to achieve a state title.
"I'm not looking forward at all, it's one match at a time," Blocker said. "Anybody can be beaten, it doesn't matter who it is, so I'm just watching one match at a time."
After losing his first match on the state meet mats, Blocker eventually finished seventh as a freshman at East Marshall/GMG. He climbed to third as a sophomore before missing out on last year's season-ending event.
He began his final tour with a dominant victory over Ridge View junior Jason Kenny (36-13), taking a 5-0 lead into the second period and scoring another five points prior to pinning Kenny in 2 minutes, 43 seconds.
"I just knew that he was 35-12 and that's all I knew," Blocker said. "I knew I could go out and get him, go out and get the fast pin. I didn't want to waste any time.
"It feels better than it's ever felt, coming back here after what happened last year. I've got a goal and I'm going to go out and get it. My freshman and sophomore year I was nervous - the big crowd - I had the deer-in-front-of-the-headlights kind of, and now it's just like second nature to me."
This morning Blocker will face fourth-ranked Colton Martin of Alburnett, a 46-1 senior. The two did not square off in Wednesday's state dual team tournament because Blocker was resting an ailing knee.
Chesler (47-4) found a familiar opponent in his first-round match - Alburnett's eighth-ranked Zach Hoyle. On Wednesday, Chesler pinned Hoyle's little brother Austin in 3:49, and on Thursday he racked up eight near-fall points in the second period before pinning Zach in 3:20.
"It feels good, I've been thinking about it all week, I just want to get to that final match," Chesler said.
He will face fifth-ranked Nick Schany of Emmetsburg, a 30-6 senior, in today's quarterfinals.
Hilleman and Arnold both reversed their fortune from last year's first round. Both wrestlers were 0-2 and eliminated on the first day of action, but wins on Thursday erased that notion. Hilleman (42-4) led 7-1 after the first period and finished off Woodbury Central's Schuyler Rilling in 2:49, while Arnold (42-3) carried a 5-1 advantage into the third and held on for the 8-4 decision over Josh Hopkins of East Mills.
Hilleman matches up with Lynnville-Sully's Caden Doll (35-8), while Arnold will take on Wapello's Nathan Boyer (33-11) today.
Needham ran into a former state placewinner with his first-round draw, Westwood's second-ranked Zach Ulven. Ulven (37-1), who placed sixth last season at 106, kept Needham from getting in on him and won a 5-1 decision.
Needham met another former dual meet foe, Don Bosco's Grant Barron, in the consolation round and sent him home with his second win by pin in as many meetings. Needham (44-7) won in 2:33 to advance through the first day in his state meet debut.
Alburnett leads the 1A team standings with 28 points, followed by Woodbury Central (18.5), West Marshall and Emmetsburg (17), and West Hancock (16).
Today's first session, starting with the 1A and 3A quarterfinals, begins at 9 a.m.
Meinders stays alive
AGWSR sophomore Clay Meinders avoided the program's first 0-2 state showing since 2003 with a win in the first round of consolation action Thursday in the 195-pound bracket of Class 1A.
The 10th-ranked Meinders (36-8) suffered a first-round loss by fall to Panorama senior Taylor Hein (38-10) in a 54-second pin. On the back side of the bracket, Meinders bounced back with a 9-5 decision over Lisbon junior Matt Mongomery (35-12) in an elimination match.
Each of AGWSR's previous nine state qualifiers advanced past the first day, the last seven of which eventually became placewinners.
"Winning's the key, at least you know you're here until Friday," Cougars head coach Chad Gerbracht said. "We'll just attack whoever comes across (the bracket) (today)."
Meinders tried to be the aggressor against Hein, a former state qualifer, but got caught off balance when his double-leg takedown attempt appeared to have Hein reeling.
"We don't have to be that aggressive, we talked about weathering the storm with that kid," Gerbracht said. "(Clay) took a great shot, the kid butt-dropped on us and rolled through.
"Clay did a nice job of rebounding back. We got some of those nerves out the first time out. He took a good shot but ended up in a bad position."
In consolation action, Meinders scored at least one takedown in each period to pick up a 9-5 decision over Montgomery. Today's second-round consolation match for Meinders will be against either No. 2 Adam Hawkins of BGM (44-1) or No. 5 Tyler Hoffman (43-2) of East Buchanan.