Jessen injury overshadows Lynx title

FORT DODGE – Winning individual gold medals and team championships are nice, and Webster City accomplished both in grand fashion at Saturday’s 40th annual Don Miller Invitational.

Smiles and congratulatory pats on the back were few and far between, however, as the Lynx shuffled out of the Fort Dodge Senior High gymnasium and onto their bus late in the evening.

The coaches and wrestlers were thinking about the big picture, not a sporting event.

Overshadowing the Lynx team title – their first at the prestigious event since 1991 – was a serious neck injury suffered by senior 152-pounder Brandon Jessen during his semifinal-round bout against Josh Schambach of Sioux City East.

Jessen suffered a fractured C1 vertebra on what was deemed an illegal slam. He lay motionless on the mat for some time before eventually being transported by ambulance to Trinity Regional Medical Center. He was then taken to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines where he spent the night in the ICU.

On Sunday, WCHS head coach Ted Larson said Jessen’s doctors told the family that surgery won’t be required. He will spend the next three months in a chest and neck brace.

“Brandon is a great kid. Our hearts are hurting and our prayers are with him,” a noticeably shaken Larson said following the tournament. “This is just a wrestling tournament and it’s great to win, but anytime you have someone hurt potentially this severely, wins and losses don’t matter anymore. The well-being of our kids is the most important.”

Larson said, in his opinion, the quick and decisive actions taken by the first responders on scene kept Jessen out of potentially catastrophic medical danger.

“The biggest thing is the Fort Dodge rescue team did an outstanding job because they did exactly what needed to be done,” Larson said. “If they do it wrong he stops breathing and that’s not drama, that’s fact. So we can’t thank them enough.”

Jessen was in the lineup only because regular starter Tanner Hild was diagnosed with influenza Friday evening. Jessen was more than holding his own too with a pair of early-round wins. He was awarded the semifinal match over Schambach by disqualification and finished second after forfeiting the gold-medal match to Fort Dodge’s ninth-ranked (Class 3A) Jonah Egli.

“Jessen stepping in as a back-up and doing great, that just tells you what kind of group we’ve got,” Larson said.

WCHS took charge of the tournament in the quarterfinals, led by 50.5 points after the semifinals and upped its final winning margin to 55.5 over runner-up Fort Dodge. The Lynx piled up 213.5 points to the Dodgers 158; Council Bluffs Lewis Central (154) was third in the 16-team field.

“With this group of kids, with everything we’ve been going through, I’m so proud of our guys for the way they fought and competed,” Larson said. “Their resilience and their determination, it was just awesome.”

WCHS dominated through depth, as six grapplers reached the finals, three won titles and 12 placed in the top eight.

Jacob Powers (145), fifth-ranked (2A) Dylan Fielder (195) and Gavin Dinsdale (285) stood atop their weight classes. Alex Oswald (160) and Brandon Patten (182) joined Jessen as runners-up, and Ryan Ferrari (138), fifth-ranked Connor Larson (170) and Gus Gasca (220) were third.

Powers continued his unbeaten season with relative ease, dominating Marcus Coleman of Ames by major decision, 17-6, in the finals.

“He’s a kid that could have said the hell with this, I’m done,” Larson said, referring to Powers’ season-long struggle with asthma. “So I’m proud of how he’s stuck through it and just kept battling because this sport isn’t easy.”

Fielder rolled through a bracket that included three other ranked individuals. He decked fifth-ranked (3A) John Ware of Ankeny Centennial in the semifinals and handled No. 7 (3A) Ray Schroder of Newton, 5-1, in the championship round.

Dinsdale navigated a significant weight disadvantage with wins in three matches decided by either one or two points. He got a sudden-victory takedown against Collin Olson of Ankeny Centennial to win the gold, 3-1.

“Gavin is wrestling exactly the way he needs to at heavyweight because he had guys that were huge,” Larson said.

Oswald and Patten finished above their seeds. Oswald upset No. 7-ranked (2A) J.J. Clark of Clarinda, 4-1, in the semifinals before dropping a 9-5 decision to No. 5 Ethan Ruba of Lewis Central. Patten thumped top-seed Wyatt Parker of Blue Springs South by major decision, 12-3, to reach the finals; he fell to No. 7 (3A) Sam Cook of Fort Dodge, 6-3.

Ferrari, in particular, caught Larson’s eye, as he stepped onto the mat as an afterthought in regards to seeds.

“Ryan had a great day, he really did,” the coach said.

After undergoing IV treatments Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning because of the flu, Connor Larson finished three matches by fall in under a minute to tie Chip Bahr’s school record (73) for career pins. His only hiccup was an 8-5 semifinal setback against fourth-ranked (3A) Hank Swalla of Ames.

Gasca racked up a pair of falls and a decision.

Freddie Seeley (120) and Tanner Hoveland (132) both placed fifth, while Cole Nokes (113) took eighth.

The Lynx lineup compiled a 35-13 record.

“I’d take these kids anywhere, anytime because I know they’re always going to give all their effort,” Ted Larson said.