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Discoverers roll out 'hungry' group

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Columbus High Wrestling 2022

Columbus High seniors, from left, Blake Cerny, Carter Braun, Rylee Iburg and Levi Bloomquist are each seeking their first state medal in their final season as a Discoverer.

Columbus High wrestlers took to the mat for the first official training session about two weeks ago in an unfamiliar position. For just the second time in the past eight years, no one on the roster is coming off an appearance in the state title match.

That isn't to say there isn't finals experience in the group; junior Adrian Bice wrestled for a title as a freshman. But overall, the senior leaders of this group are, compared to recent classes, less accomplished and running out of time.

The Discoverers have eight seniors, three of which have been regular members of the lineup for most of their careers. But those three -- Levi Bloomquist, Blake Cerny and Rylee Iburg -- have yet to win a state medal. The fourth, Carter Braun, found his way into the lineup midway through last season and made a run to state where he won a match but went 1-2.

The guys with the state hardware on the current roster reside in the junior and sophomore classes. If there's one word to describe the team, Columbus wrestlers say it's "hungry."

Expectations for those who are in the regular lineup begin with state qualification. But in reality, only a state medal is seen as living up to those expectations. It's a hungry group, but also one that's filled with urgency.

"The hunger they have, they've been state qualifiers, they've done all this stuff, they've witnessed teammates win state titles. They all have their sights set on getting on the podium and coming home with a state medal, and ending their career on a high note," coach Adam Keiswetter said. "In the wrestling room the intensity has been super high. You can just see the hunger in these guys because, getting close to that goal, they're really excited to get after it."

Blake Cerny is nearing 100 wins in his career after wrestling more than 30 varsity matches each of his first three seasons. He didn't make the lineup for the district meet as a freshman but has since been a district runner-up as a sophomore and fourth-place as a junior. He went 2-2 at state in 2020 and 1-2 last February.

Blake Cerny

Blake Cerny looks for a single leg takedown last year at the state tournament. Cerny is the most accomplished of the Discoverer seniors with nearly 100 wins in his varsity career.

Iburg, like Cerny, had a spot on varsity from the first match he was eligible. However, he's also dealt with some sort of injury each season. He was 23-15 as a freshman, 23-11 as a sophomore and made state as a district fourth-place medalist then went 16-6 a year ago, earning his way to Omaha as the district runner-up. He went 1-2 in both state tournament appearances.

Bloomquist, like Iburg, has struggled to stay healthy the past two years. He was 23-16 as a freshman, was fourth at districts and 0-2 at state. As a sophomore he was 19-17, again fourth at the district tournament and went 1-2 in Omaha. A year ago he suffered a left shoulder injury in late January that put him on the shelf for the rest of the year with a 15-8 record.

There's a certain amount of disappointment each of the three deal with. As regulars every season, arriving at their senior year without a state medal is out of the norm for a CHS wrestler that has been involved as much as they have.

Regardless, none of the three say they view their career through that lens nor feel extra pressure to get it done this winter. Once it happens, it'll be worth it no matter how crooked the path was to finally get there.

"I just feel like it's the same as every year," Iburg said. "I've been chasing a medal and fallen short. This year I'm just going to wrestle, and have fun, and hopefully get on the podium."

Braun has spent more time wrestling JV than varsity then found his way into the starting 14 a year ago when CHS dealt with a rash of injuries for all two and a half months of the season. He came on in January and made a run that included a district runner-up before going 1-2 at state.

Braun wasn't a varsity regular until the calendar flipped. He said it was at the HAC meet where a loss to Kearney's Gage Ferguson in the quarterfinals provided the wakeup call needed. He went on to win four in a row and take bronze. 

Braun lost to Ferguson again five days later in a dual but closed the season 13-7 after their first match and was the surprise of the season. And while he hasn't had the varsity experience of the three other senior leaders, he too is down to his last shot.

"I like to say Gage Ferguson punched me awake," Braun said. "He kept turning me on my back, and right there after that match something sparked me. I just went out there the rest of the year and starting scrapping."

Rylee Iburg

Rylee Iburg scrambles with an opponent during the consolation round last year at the state tournament. Iburg is hoping for a season of consistent health after struggling through a career beset by injury.

Whether or not the top four seniors can get a medal is certainly a storyline for this year's edition of Columbus High wrestling, but it's not the only one. Top to bottom, competition for spots in the lineup will be fierce.

Brenyn Delano comes back for his sophomore season after fourth place at state last year and a 28-15 record. Bice is a junior with two state medals to his name including fifth last year. Cadyn Kucera is another junior who went 32-9 and earned fifth in Omaha. Liam Blaser was 16-12 and went 0-2 at state.

That makes seven returning state qualifiers. Then there are also guys like Eric Slusarski, Cody Cuba and Kaden Brownlow who wrestled right at 10 or more than 10 varsity matches. There are a whole host of others like Levi Cerny, Carter Fedde, Logan Salak, Marcus Beltran, John Bloomquist and Jaden McFarland that were JV regulars looking to crack the lineup.

"I think we have some weight classes where we could have more than one guy that's good enough to be a state medalist," Keiswetter said.

Is it good enough to match the likes of Millard South - that seems unlikely for anyone in Class A. But CHS feels like it will be in contention for a state trophy once February rolls around. And if the Patriots or other top contenders are forced to deal with a slew of injuries, like the Discoverers did, anything can happen.

"I think these guys are so hungry, they want it so bad, they've got their eyes on it," Keiswetter said. "It's cool to step back in the room and see the intensity of the drilling."

Iburg is aiming to end his varsity career with his own moment and one for the team as well.

"I've got pretty high expectations for the team this year seeing the work that's going on in the wrestling room," he said. "I believe we can be a top three team at state this year if everybody competes the way they should. I have my eyes on making the final and winning a gold medal."

Levi Bloomquist

Levi Bloomquist battles with top-ranked Antrell Taylor in a home dual last season. Bloomquist missed on a third straight trip to state last season due to a shoulder injury.

CarterBraun

Columbus High wrestler Carter Braun looks for the pin in a dual match last season. Braun came on strong midway through his junior year and earned his first trip to state.

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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