BUCKLE UP: NCC bragging rights on line for Lynx

WEBSTER CITY – There’s always a favorite. There. Just. Is.

Go ahead and take that unscientific logic and chuck it right out the bus window.

The coaches are scratching their heads. The wrestlers don’t have any inside knowledge. The fans all have their predictions (and their biases) and yet they don’t have the answers either.

And that’s why the anticipation is so great.

Arguably the deepest and most competitive North Central Conference wrestling tournament in more than a decade will get underway at 10 a.m. on Saturday from Hodges Fieldhouse on the campus of Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. Eight teams will be in attendance looking to unseat defending champion Humboldt.

Webster City took home the hardware in 2011 and 2012 before finishing second on its home mats a season ago. The Lynx, ranked seventh (Class 2A) in the latest state tournament team rankings released by The Predicament on Thursday, are expected to be one of the frontrunners.

But can the Lynx navigate the landmines that are sure to be strategically placed in each and every round? Head coach Ted Larson says, unequivocally, yes.

“I don’t know that we’re the favorite, but I know what we’ve done this far this year,” he said. “We’ve been through a grueling schedule. We’ve had opportunities to be tested in tough tournaments, but it’s what we needed to be where we want to be.

“We’re healthy and we’re ready.”

Clear Lake (2A No. 4), Clarion-Goldfield (1A No. 3) and Fort Dodge St. Edmond (1A No. 9) also come into the tournament with plenty of firepower, and Humboldt is capable of taking home the championship again as well.

Twelve of last year’s individual league champions and six runners-up will be in the mix. The conference boasts 24 ranked grapplers and nine of the weights feature at least two in the top 10.

In other words, get there early and buckle up. It’s going to be quite a ride.

“I think you’ve got to look a long time before you find this many ranked guys in the conference,” Larson said. “(The team race) is just too close to call. There are going to be a lot of matches that are too close to call, too.”

WCHS returns three champions – eighth-ranked Alex Oswald (160 pounds), sixth-ranked Connor Larson (170) and second-ranked Dylan Fielder (195). Brandon Patten (182) and Gus Gasca (220) were silver medalists last season.

Connor Larson and St. Edmond senior Kaden McClintock (No. 1-ranked at 120) will attempt to become just the sixth and seventh wrestlers in league history to win four titles. But if that is weighing on the mind of the Lynx senior then his coach and father say he’s doing a good job of hiding it.

“He and I haven’t even talked about it because that’s not what it’s about. He can use it as motivation, but he can’t get caught up in it,” Ted Larson said. “I’m not worried about a number right now and Connor’s not worried about a number right now.”

Connor Larson will need to be focused to win one of the toughest weights. He’ll be pushed by fifth-ranked (2A) Nikko Wheeler of Humboldt, 10th-ranked (2A) Tyler Frideres of Algona and previously ranked Grant Lehmann of Hampton-Dumont.

And yet 170 isn’t even the most stacked bracket.

That distinction belongs to the big boys. Third-ranked heavyweight Gavin Dinsdale, a WCHS sophomore, will have his hands full in a field that also includes No. 1 (2A) Mario Pena of Hampton-Dumont, No. 3 Dylan Hendricks of Humboldt and No. 5 (1A) Mitch Gambrill of Clarion-Goldfield.

Gambrill, last year’s 285-pound runner-up, is the likely top-seed.

“It’s going to be really tough,” Ted Larson said.

Fielder’s bracket will include another defending champion – fourth-ranked Reed Dreyer of Humboldt. Fielder is 2-0 against Dreyer this season.

Other potential Nos. 1 or 2 seeds for WCHS include Jacob Powers (145) and Tanner Hild (152).

Ted Larson says his team’s game plan isn’t a secret; the Lynx need to be stellar where they have been all season at the upper weights and then steal some points in some of the other weight classes.

“Every year somebody in this tournament gets beat that shouldn’t,” he said. “We need to be those guys beating guys that they shouldn’t on paper, and then we need to beat the guys that we should.”

Note: It was reported earlier this week that Eagle Grove will not send any participants to the conference tournament; no reason was given.

The Eagles, in their final year in the league, have been the most successful program over the years with 10 team titles.