By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Last season was memorable for everyone involved in the Solon wrestling program.
Zeb Gnida certainly has plenty of fond memories of his freshman season in which Solon won the first state title in program history and reached the finals of the Class 2A state dual tournament.
It’s the way the season ended for Gnida that isn’t such a fond memory.
A loss at sectionals forced Gnida, the Spartans’ starter at 106 pounds, to watch from the stands as Solon secured the Class 2A state title.
It was a feeling that didn’t sit well with Gnida.
“Last year I just felt so empty at the end and I just wanted so much more,” Gnida said. “I was pretty good in my youth year and freshman year hit me hard and I wasn’t happy with it at all.”
That empty feeling from last season has fueled Gnida during an impressive start to his sophomore season.
Gnida is off to a 17-4 start that includes nine consecutive wins and is ranked fifth in Class 2A at 120 pounds.
He opened the season with a 3-1 decision over last seasons’ 106-pound Class 2A champion Grayson Kesterson and all four losses for Gnida this season have come to 3A or out of state competitors.
“He has always had the ability and the talent but his confidence is 100 percent better,” Solon coach Blake Williams said. “He’s wrestled some tough kids and he’s beat some tough kids but every time he’s gone on the win he expects to win which is huge in wrestling.”
Make no mistake, Gnida had a strong freshman season, going 31-18 in his varsity debut campaign.
However, it was an abrupt end to his individual season that rubbed Gnida the wrong way.
Gnida landed in a sectional meet that produced both of the 106-pound state finalists in Kesterson and Jarod Kadel of Columbus.
A 4-2 semifinal loss to Kadel ended the individual season for Gnida.
“106 last year was a very, very tough weight,” Williams said. “There were a ton of good area kids and he saw those guys all year and had the top two kids in the state at his sectional.”
Motivated by his early postseason exit, Gnida upped his wrestling intake over the summer.
He spent more time in the wrestling room with Solon teammates and that work is already paying off.
In addition to his season-opening win over Kesterson, Gnida already has victories over Mount Vernon senior Jack Streicher and then third-ranked Carter Weeks of Vinton-Shellsburg.
Gnida was 0-5 against those three wrestlers last season.
“My movement feels so much better, just working with the guys every day in the room helps so much,” Gnida said. “You can’t do it alone and in the offseason we got in the room and we all worked together.”
A month into his first season at 120 pounds Gnida has been thoroughly tested.
His losses have come to Missouri recruit and the tenth-ranked 113 pounder in the nation Cevion Severado of Christian Brothers College (Missouri), Jakason Burks of Omaha Burke, 3A No. 5 Conrad Braswell of Cedar Rapids Prairie and eight-ranked Keegan Schultschik of Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Those early losses didn’t drop the confidence for Gnida, who closed 2017 with seven straight wins.
“I feel really good, I like where I’m at,” Gnida said. “I’ve just had more drive and more confidence to be better this year.”