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SOLON – There were 16 seasons between Solon’s first trip to the state dual tournament and its Class 2A runner-up finish last season.
With half of its lineup from last year’s runner-up team gone to graduation most people outside of the Solon wrestling room anticipated another at least short gap before the Spartans returned to state duals.
The Spartans had other plans.
“I think the boys have heard a lot even from the end of last year how we weren’t going to be good, all these people graduated and I think they have used it as motivation throughout the season to prove people wrong,” Solon coach Blake Williams said. “They’ve kind of surprised people all the way from the start all the way to now.”
Rather than dwell on the departures the returning Solon starters using the discussion of a possible drop off as its fuel.
Driven by a desire to prove it was more than a one-season success story Solon (20-5) returned to the state dual meet for the second straight season with an upset of sixth-ranked West Liberty in a regional final last week.
“A lot of people thought we were not going to be that good but we’ve proved them wrong,” Solon junior Zack Bevans said. “We’ve had people be able to step up.”
Ninth-ranked Solon will be making back-to-back state dual meet appearances for the first time ever when it faces Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (19-4) in a 2A quarterfinal on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Solon will be the underdogs in its opener against second-ranked Clarion-Goldfield-Dows. That’s a role that has fit the Spartans well this season.
“We call ourselves the underdogs,” Solon sophomore Jax Flynn said. “Everyone thought we’d take a big step but we knew we were going to be good.”
There were valid reasons to expect a sharp decline for Solon following a magical 2017 season that included a runner-up finish at state duals and the first traditional title in program history.
Seven senior starters graduated, a list that featured for state medalists and two finalists in Bryce and Drew West.
The Spartans that did return wasted no time laying the foundation for a successful season despite what outsiders were saying.
It was a simple plan. More time wrestling less time listening to what people said.
“We didn’t let that stuff get to us we just stepped it up in the room and worked harder that’s really what it came down to,” Bevans said. “A lot of training in the offseason.”
Solon has made up for the loss of some of its star power with an even more balanced lineup.
Nine wrestlers in the Solon lineup have won at least 30 matches this season and five enter state tournament competition ranked.
“We don’t have necessarily that firepower that we did last year as far as big point getters but boy when you look at us in a dual we are a good team,” Williams said.
The state dual return has been a true team effort for the Spartans.
Across the board every Solon wrestler has made significant improvement from a season ago.
Senior heavyweight Tyler Linderbaum (34-0) has gone for a state medalist to a unbeaten title contender at heavyweight while the likes of junior Mike Hoyle and Zeb Gnida have progressed from solid contributors to ranked wrestlers.
Juniors Bevans and Andy Brokaw along with Flynn have become stalwarts in the middle of the lineup and represent the individual ascent in the Solon lineup as well as anyone.
Brokaw, who spent most of last season of junior varsity, is a state qualifier at 138 pounds while Bevans is a first-time qualifier at 152.
Flynn clinched the regional final upset of West Liberty came up a win shy of his first trip to the individual state tournament.
“Up and down the lineup there has been improvement,” Williams said. “Andy Brokaw goes from JV to a state qualifier and there are lots of stories like that. Jax Flynn has gotten so much better, Zack Bevans is a qualifier and up and down the lineup we have seen it.”
City High is making its first state dual appearance since 2006 and will take on third-ranked Waukee in its opener on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
The sixth-ranked Little Hawks have six ranked wrestlers and Waukee has eight but the only matchup of ranked wrestlers would be at 106 with City High’s seventh-ranked sophomore Ethan Wood-Finley and third-ranked Waukee freshman Lucas Uliano.
No. 1 Fort Dodge (15-0) vs. No. 8 Dubuque Hempstead (22-4)
No. 4 Southeast Polk (14-1) vs. No. 5 Johnston (18-2)
No. 2 West Des Moines Valley (15-4) vs. No. 7 North Scott (23-3)
No. 3 Waukee (20-4) vs. No. 6 City High (25-2)
Fort Dodge/Dubuque Hempstead winner vs. Southeast Polk/Johnston winner
West Des Moines Valley/North Scott winner vs. Waukee/City High winner
Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m.
No. 1 New Hampton (31-3) vs. No. 10 Webster City (20-8)
No. 4 West Delaware (15-3) vs. No. 5 Davenport Assumption (15-5)
No. 2 Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (19-4) vs. No. 9 Solon (20-5)
No. 3 Ballard (22-6) vs. No. 8 Williamsburg (26-2)
New Hampton/Webster City winner vs. West Delaware/Davenport Assumption winner
Clarion-Goldfield-Dows/Solon winner vs. Ballard/Williamsburg winner