1st Dual, 1st Test: Lynx enter opener against No. 4 H-D as underdogs

WEBSTER CITY – Ted Larson shrugs off the question as if he hasn’t given it even a second of thought. He has other things to concentrate on to fill his time.

Still, it had to be asked of the Webster City wrestling coach: Did The Predicament poke the bear or, in this case, the Lynx?

The Predicament – widely regarded as one of Iowa’s most informative wrestling sources – released its preseason team and individual rankings earlier this week and the results could be deemed somewhat surprising.

Seven North Central Conference programs placed multiple grapplers in the rankings, but it was Webster City that fell at the bottom end of that totem pole with two in Class 2A – No. 4 170-pounder Connor Larson and No. 5 195-pounder Dylan Fielder, both seniors.

Hampton-Dumont, Humboldt and Clear Lake all have four ranked 2A wrestlers and Algona has three. In 1A, Clarion-Goldfield owns four spots and Fort Dodge St. Edmond secured three spots.

Hampton-Dumont (No. 4), Humboldt (No. 6) and Clear Lake (No. 7) are all ranked 2A teams, as is St. Edmond (No. 6) in 1A.

Is Webster City the fifth-, sixth- or seventh-best team in the NCC? Now that’s the question that increases Ted Larson’s pulse.

“That’s their opinion. I don’t care and I don’t get concerned with someone else’s opinion of our kids or team,” Ted Larson, who returns 13 starters off last season’s NCC runner-up squad, said in response to the rankings questions. “They want to overlook us? That’s just fine.”

The Lynx will get the immediate chance to respond on the mat tonight when they host Hampton-Dumont in a North Central Conference dual inside the WCHS gymnasium. Junior varsity competition will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the varsity dual to follow at approximately 7:30 p.m.

With so much parity in the NCC this season, WCHS cannot afford to under perform in any dual if it wants to win a league championship. Hampton-Dumont will certainly present a giant obstacle; the Bulldogs return four state qualifiers and three state place winners, led by top-ranked heavyweight Mario Pena, who was seventh at the weight a season ago.

“This is the most even I’ve seen the conference in a long time and it’s going to be a battle,” Ted Larson said. “So this is a big dual and the way we match up, we’ve got to wrestle well because Hampton is a good team. We can’t take anything for granted.”

The premier bout could come at 170 where Connor Larson could face fifth-ranked Grant Lehmann. Both were state qualifiers a season ago; Connor Larson didn’t place at 160 in 3A, while Lehmann earned a seventh-place 2A medal at 160.

To add even more intrigue, Connor Larson enters the dual sitting on 99 career victories. A win tonight would place him in the school’s 100-victory fraternity, which currently has just seven members.

But getting win No. 100 is a secondary thought for both coach and pupil.

“It’s a big night because it’s a chance to get a big win in the conference and that’s what he needs,” Ted Larson said with regards to his son. “The 100th win isn’t even a thought right now. The thought is getting off to a great start.”

Fielder – a three-time state qualifier and two-time sixth-place state medal winner – enters the season needing just three wins to reach 100.

What makes Hampton-Dumont such a dangerous opponent is the Bulldogs have the ability to offset the Lynx strength in the upper weights. In addition to Lehmann and Pena, they also possess junior 220-pounder Kendrick Suntken, ranked third after making it to state a season ago.

Gus Gasca – a senior who won 23 matches and was an NCC runner-up last winter – will go for the Lynx at 220. Sophomore Gavin Dinsdale, a state qualifier as a rookie, will get the call against Pena at 285.

Other returning heavy-hitters to the Lynx lineup include 2013 state qualifier Jacob Powers (145), a senior who won 30 matches last season; senior and former NCC silver medalist Tanner Hild (152); reigning league champion Alex Oswald (160), a senior; and Brandon Patten (182), also a senior who piled up 26 victories and a second-place finish at the NCC tourney last season.

After tonight, WCHS will gear up for Saturday’s Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational.