Champs the Chasers: Lynx 2-year NCC reign to be challenged Saturday

WEBSTER CITY – There will be 18 ranked wrestlers on the three mats inside the WCHS gymnasium on Saturday when the 46th North Central Conference wrestling tournament kicks off in front of what is anticipated to be a boisterous crowd.

But it’s one of the unranked grapplers that holds quite a few of the cards for Webster City in its quest to win a third consecutive league championship.

So, will he or won’t he? Lynx head coach Ted Larson still can’t answer that question.

An unspecified back injury has limited the mat time of junior 138-pounder Tanner Hild (18-5) in recent weeks, and he hasn’t competed since the consolation round of the Jack Mendenhall Invite in Ames on Jan. 5. Hild was the NCC runner-up at 132 a season ago, and was expected to be a contender for gold on Saturday.

“Right now I’d say there’s a better chance of him not wrestling, but I really don’t know,” Larson said. “He’s in a lot of pain when he’s wrestling, but we don’t know if it’s a slipped disc, a ruptured disc, or what. But if we get the OK and he can’t hurt anything else, then we’ll probably wrestle him.”

Larson knows his team will need every point possible to remain on top. Conference dual leader Humboldt will enter as the prohibitive favorite with a lineup that includes a tournament-best four ranked wrestlers. The Wildcats aren’t exactly weak at the other 10 weights either.

“Humboldt is the one that everybody is looking at and that’s fine. We’ve been there before, too,” Larson said.

Clear Lake, Clarion-Goldfield and Fort Dodge St. Edmond are all potential road blocks as well.

Will it be an impossible challenge for the Lynx without Hild? Larson goes back to the 2011 tournament – the Lynx first NCC crown in 19 years – as proof that anything is possible. WCHS competed without gold-medal contender Luke Shannon because of illness that day and still got the job done.

“We did it at Humboldt two years ago without Luke, and I brought that up to the guys,” Larson said. “It just means everyone has to step up. We’re going to have to score 206 points or more in my figures to win this thing and however we do it, we do it.”

Top-ranked (Class 3A) 182-pounder Dylan Fielder (25-2), No. 4 160-pounder Connor Larson (24-4) and No. 10 heavyweight Landon Johnson (23-6) give the Lynx plenty of reasons to be optimistic. All three could be No. 1 seeds, and 145-pounder Jake Powers (23-7) is a likely No. 2 seed.

Powers won the first tournament of his varsity career at last weekend’s ADM Tiger Invite.

“He’s wrestling really well right now,” Ted Larson said of Powers. “Coming off this tournament at ADM is perfect for him and in the practice room this week, I can tell he’s got a drive behind him now and he’s seeing something. I look for him to do some big things on Saturday.”

Connor Larson, a junior, and St. Edmond’s No. 5-ranked 113-pounder Kaden McClintock, a senior, will try to become the 37th and 38th three-time champions in league history.

Since moving down from 170 to 160, Connor Larson is 16-1 with a current run of 12 consecutive wins. During the recent surge, he’s grabbed two tournament titles and knocked off four ranked individuals.

“Connor is wrestling really well right now,” Ted Larson said. “He’s focused, he’s mentally tough and he’s wrestling physical. He just needs to keep on that same page.”

He’ll face a loaded bracket that will include No. 5 (1A) Jake Haberman of Clarion-Goldfield and No. 9 (2A) Colton Schnetzer of Humboldt. Connor Larson dominated Haberman in the 2012 160-pound final, 9-0. He also nipped Schnetzer, 14-9, earlier this month.

Fielder could also face a stern test in his search for a first NCC crown. A runner-up two years ago and a bronze medalist last year, Fielder – a two-time state qualifier and a sixth-place medal winner a year ago – will likely have to get by No. 8 (2A) Nikko Wheeler of Humboldt. Fielder hung on for a 6-4 win over Wheeler in their only meeting this season.

Johnson was one of five gold medalists for the Lynx a year ago, but Ted Larson predicts his heavyweight could cross paths with another returning champion on Saturday. The WCHS coach thinks Clarion-Goldfield may bump up No. 4 (1A) 220-pounder Mitch Gambrill.

“Yeah, I think that might happen,” he said.

Clarion-Goldfield No. 6-ranked (1A) sophomore Joel Haberman (126) is also a returning champion. He took top honors at 113 a season ago.

Ted Larson didn’t want to play the prediction game. But he does believe in his team.

“We have the potential to do well,” he said. “We’re going to go into this and just compete and do what we’ve been doing because that’s been serving us pretty well.”