Feast or Famine: Lynx dethroned despite tourney-best 4 NCC champions

WEBSTER CITY – Landon Johnson just smiled and kept his mouth shut, even though he really wanted to let his answer fly.

Did the defending North Central Conference 285-pound champion take it personally that Clarion-Goldfield moved fourth-ranked (Class 1A) 220-pounder Mitch Gambrill up to the heaviest weight class in an attempt to strike gold at Saturday’s 46th NCC tournament?

“Yeah, I don’t really want to answer that,” Johnson said. “He probably thought it would be easier, but I don’t know.”

Well, it wasn’t.

Johnson, 10th-ranked (3A) at heavyweight, showed Gambrill – the 2012 league winner at 220 – how the big boys play inside the WCHS gymnasium, as he hit a first-period headlock throw to build a lead he never relinquished in an 11-8 win. He became just the ninth Webster City wrestler to win two conference titles.

“Doing this twice is an accomplishment in my eyes,” Johnson said.

Johnson was joined at the top of the podium by teammates Alex Oswald (152), fourth-ranked Connor Larson (160) and top-ranked Dylan Fielder (182).

Webster City’s four champions led the field. The Lynx also topped the competition in finalists (6) and tied Algona for the most top-three place winners (7), but their two-year reign as king ended with a second place finish in the team race behind Humboldt.

The Wildcats finished with 182 points to the Lynx 163. Clear Lake (154), Algona (153) and Clarion-Goldfield (149) completed the top five.

Humboldt captured its first team title since 2002 and seventh overall by placing 13 of its 14 wrestlers in the top six. WCHS managed just 10 place winners.

“For the most part we wrestled to our full ability, but you have a hard time winning tournaments when you don’t score points at all the weights, and that caught us (on Saturday),” WCHS head coach Ted Larson said. “When you bring 14 guys and don’t score with all of them, it’s tough to swallow.”

WCHS owned a 3-point lead on Humboldt following a magical semifinal round that included upset wins for No. 4-seed Oswald over top-seeded Tyler Rutz of Humboldt and No. 3 seed Brandon Patten over second-seed and 10th-ranked (2A) Josh Bauer of Hampton-Dumont.

But Humboldt owned the consolation semifinal round with seven wins, all by fall. The Wildcats entered the final round with a 30-point cushion on the field. It didn’t matter that they struggled to a 2-11 record in the medal matches.

“We won the tournament on the consolation side with our depth,” Humboldt head coach Chad Beaman said. “The team that contributes the most at the most weights, that’s who normally wins the conference championship.”

Oswald completed his run through the gauntlet by notching four takedowns in an 8-5 win over No. 2 seed Bailey Miller of Hampton-Dumont in the gold-medal match.

“Alex wrestled consistently in position and aggressive the whole day,” Ted Larson said. “He stayed mentally tough for six minutes and he didn’t lose his focus once, and that’s what we’re after.”

Oswald was considered the surprise champion of the tournament. It wasn’t a surprise to him though.

“This is great, but this is kind of what I expected,” he said. “Being the four-seed was motivation, but this whole week in practice my mind was on this.”

Connor Larson continued his mid-season assault by running roughshod over three opponents to become the 38th three-time NCC champion and only the third in Lynx lore. A pair of pins got him to the finals where, for the second year in a row, he blasted fifth-ranked (1A) Jake Haberman of Clarion-Goldfield by major decision, 13-5.

Larson chucked Haberman to his back in the first period and led 10-1 after four minutes.

“Connor is wrestling well right now, but this was just a step towards what we’re after and that’s down to the big podium (at state),” Ted Larson said. “But this is a nice feather in the hat.”

Connor Larson will attempt to join the exclusive four-time champion fraternity next season, as will St. Edmond’s fifth-ranked Kaden McClintock (113). Only five wrestlers have accomplished the feat, and they would both be the first from their respective schools.

“Getting three is awesome and four would be great,” Connor Larson, who upped is career win total to 92, said. “But I’ve got to get to state. That’s what I want.”

Fielder put in a workmanlike day with a pin and two-nail biting decisions to pick up his first NCC crown. He broke a 1-1 tie with a late takedown in a 3-2 semifinal victory over St. Edmond’s Dillon Nelson, and then used a takedown and reversal to add Algona’s Garrett Johnson to his hit list, 4-2, in the finals.

Points on escapes are all that Fielder yielded.

“It feels pretty good to get that first conference title,” Fielder said.” I knew I didn’t want to get myself in any bad positions and I just did what I do best.”

Patten and fellow finalist Gus Gasca (195) both dropped gold-medal bouts to ranked opponents. Patten suffered an 11-0 loss to No. 7 (3A) Joe Teague of Algona, and Gasca had no answer for No. 2 Reed Dreyer of Humboldt, who won by fall in 1:14.

“This was a huge day for Patten,” Ted Larson said. “He wrestled really well and he closed that gap a little on Teague.”

Dreyer’s stranglehold on the field pushed Humboldt’s streak of crowning at least one champion to 25 years and counting. The last time the Wildcats went home without gold was 1988.

Top-seeded wrestlers won 12 of the 14 titles. Only Oswald and Johnson – the No. 2 seed behind Gambrill – defied the odds.

WCHS went 7-3 in the last round to take control of the runner-up slot. Jake Powers (145) captured the bronze medal, Gavin Dinsdale (220) finished fourth, and Freddie Seeley (113) and Collin Oswald (126) were both fifth.

The Lynx competed without 2012 league runner-up Tanner Hild (138) because of a back injury that has kept him out of the lineup for two weeks. Could Hild have made up the 18-point difference on the Wildcats?

“If we would have had Tanner, you just never know,” Ted Larson said. “But that’s the way it is, it’s a vicious animal sometimes.”

Also winning individual championships were Ryan Schmalen (103), Ryan Faught (120) and second-ranked (2A) Andres Gonzalez (132) of Clear Lake; No. 6-ranked (1A) Joel Haberman (126) of Clarion-Goldfield; Korey Kuecker (138) of Algona; and Teddie Harvey (145) and top-ranked (1A) Vinnie Harvey (220) of Fort Dodge St. Edmond.

Teddie Harvey is No. 3-ranked at 152 and was expected to be the favorite at that weight class, but he opted to move down in the days leading up to the tournament.

Joel Haberman, a sophomore, won his second title.