(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is dedicated to longtime Des Moines Register wrestling reporter Dan McCool, who died on Monday at the age of 60. Dan was a legend in the wrestling community and will be sorely missed. I was working for the Register as a correspondent in the 80s and one of the first big events that I was asked to cover was to help out Dan with state wrestling tournament coverage–the entire thing. Three 12-hour days later I was exhausted, but what an education. I think Dan knew everything there was to know about any wrestler. He was a great reporter and an even better guy. RIP Dan.)
On Feb. 22 at Wells Fargo Arena, Ankeny junior Caleb Rathjen took the mat in the state wrestling finals with a chance to make some history.
Rathjen went on to post a 17-6 major decision over Dreyzon Phillips of Fort Dodge to win the Class 3A title at 138 pounds. He became only the fourth two-time state champion in Ankeny High School history.
Overall, the town of Ankeny has produced 14 individual state champions since the duo of Wayne Lewis and Jason Smith each won a crown 54 years ago. The Hawks also won a team championship under Hall of Fame coach Bob Sharp in 1971, the first-ever overall title won by an Ankeny squad in any sport.
In the previous two weeks, Ankeny Fanatic unveiled its all-time Ankeny boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. Now, it’s time to put the spotlight on wrestling, which might be the singular sport that the state of Iowa is most associated with across the country.
Here, then, is the Ankeny Fanatic all-time Ankeny wrestling team, comprised of grapplers from both Ankeny and Ankeny Centennial. There are two 14-man squads with the wrestlers slotted into the current weight classifications used by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
Many of the wrestlers on this list competed at multiple weights throughout their high school careers, so that allowed for some maneuverability as the teams were put together. Some wrestlers were also moved up or down a weight in an effort to get the best 28 matmen on the list.
106: Trever Anderson. The youngest member of the all-time team, Anderson won’t graduate from Ankeny until 2022. In just two seasons, though, he has put together an impressive resume, compiling a 79-3 record. As a freshman, Anderson went 42-1 and cruised to a state title at 106 pounds. He allowed no points in three of his four matches at the state tournament, capped off by a 7-0 victory over Mason City’s Jace Rhodes in the finals. His only loss came early in the season to Carter Fousek of Crestwood, which he later avenged. Anderson lost in the semifinals of this year’s state tournament, but then rebounded to earn a third-place finish at 113, ending the season at 37-2. A likely Division I recruit, he has a chance to become a three-time champion. He could also become the city’s all-time winningest wrestler–he needs 82 victories over his final two seasons to break the mark.
113: Mike Babcock. Babcock won a state title at 112 in 1974 while relying on a “street fighter mentality”, according to Brian Sharp, Bob’s son and a longtime assistant coach in the Ankeny program. He finished his career with a 51-8 record, during a time when high school wrestlers did not get as many matches as they do today.
120: Caleb Rathjen. The Iowa recruit is on pace to become Ankeny’s first three-time champion after winning the 126-pound title as a sophomore before claiming the 138-pound crown this year, when he recorded pins in his first three matches at the state tournament. He is now a three-time finalist–he took second at 113 as a freshman–with a 104-4 overall record. After losing to Valley’s Nick Oldham in the finals in 2018, he avenged that loss a year later with a 3-2 victory to earn his first title. Rathjen is 84-2 over the last two seasons, with 48 of those wins coming by fall. Both of his losses came to Lisbon star Cael Happel, who went on to become a four-time state champion. Rathjen is a member of The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Eight, a list of the state’s top eight wrestlers regardless of class. “Caleb will get reversed once in a while trying to do some things, but he might have been taken down one time this season by somebody other than Happel,” Ankeny coach Jack Wignall said after the state tournament. “This is the best he’s wrestled–I know I keep saying that. But he even blew my mind.” Rathjen’s goal is to go undefeated next season, but he’s already done enough to be the co-captain of our all-time team.
126: Bill Wilson. Wilson won a state title at 132 in 1986, becoming the eighth and final individual champion under the direction of Sharp, who coached the Hawks from 1962-87. He posted a career mark of 43-9.
132: Wayne Lewis. Lewis owns the distinction of being Ankeny’s first state champion–he won a crown at 133 in 1966. As a senior, he also helped the Hawks to a 9-3 dual record–part of an 11-year stretch under Sharp when the team never had a losing season. Lewis went 33-8-2 in his career.
138: Colby Goetsch. After Wilson won his title, Ankeny waited another 17 years before crowning another champ. Goetsch won a title at 140 in 2003 with a 1-0 decision over top-ranked Brandon Graham of Oskaloosa, who lost for the first time in 43 matches. He avenged a 4-2 loss to Graham at the district tournament one week earlier to become the Hawks’ first champion under Hall of Fame coach Dave Ewing, who took over the program in 1987. Goetsch, a three-time state qualifier, also placed fourth at 135 as a junior and finished with a career mark of 102-14. He is now an assistant under Centennial coach Jay Groth.
145: Mike Norris. Norris was a state runner-up at 132 in 1971 before winning back-to-back crowns at 138 and 145 the next two years. As a junior, he pinned his way through the state tournament. Then, as a senior, he defeated previously unbeaten Bill Edmondson of Urbandale in the finals one week after Edmondson beat Norris in the district final and was featured on the front page of the Register. “Mike was a gymnast prior to wrestling and had that uncanny strength and athleticism where he literally would be able to yank on his opponent’s head and jump over him to score a takedown,” said Brian Sharp. Norris went 68-6 in his career.
152: Topher Ewing. Ewing capped off an incredible career by winning a state title at 145 in 2003, just a few minutes after Goetsch won his crown. He posted a 9-4 decision over previously unbeaten Willie Leonard of Dubuque Wahlert to complete a perfect 39-0 season, the first undefeated campaign by an Ankeny wrestler in 37 years. He also helped the Hawks to a seventh-place finish in Class 3A. The nephew of coach Ewing was a four-time state qualifier. He placed fourth at 112 in 2000 and was the runner-up at 140 as a junior. He finished his career with a 123-12 mark, setting a school record for all-time wins that was later broken.
160: Eric Norris. Norris teamed up with his brother, Mike, to lead Ankeny to three consecutive unbeaten dual-meet seasons in 1969-72, when the Hawks went a combined 32-0. He was the school’s first two-time champion. He captured titles at 145 in 1970 and at 155 in 1971, when he needed a fall in the finals–and got it–to give the Hawks the team crown. He was also a state qualifier at 127 in 1969, back when only eight wrestlers qualified at each weight. Norris finished with a career record of 75-11.
170: Doug Anderson. After placing sixth in the state tournament as a junior, Anderson qualified for state again as a senior in 1975 and won a title at 155. He went 63-12-4 in his career and went on to wrestle for legendary coach Dan Gable at the University of Iowa, where he placed eighth in the NCAA Championships for the Hawkeyes in 1980.
182: Jason Smith. Smith won a state title at 165 in 1966 after placing second at 154 in 1965, when he lost in the final second on a riding-time advantage. He never lost again following that defeat, going 28-0 as a senior with 26 pins. One of his victories came during a dual meet against Ames, when he moved up to heavyweight and defeated the eventual state champion. “If we were going to bump anyone up, we were going to bump (Smith) up,” said Bob Sharp. Smith, who was also a four-year starter in football, went 86-7 in his career. He was recruited by the top three wrestling schools in the nation before choosing Iowa State, where he placed third in the NCAA Championships in 1968 before winning a pair of national titles in 1969-70. In 2006, Smith was ranked No. 13 on the Ankeny Press Citizen’s list of the 50 greatest athletes in Ankeny High School history. “He was special,” said Brian Sharp. Smith, a member of the Iowa High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame, is the co-captain of our squad.
195: Scott Justice. Justice was another wrestler who would be comfortable moving up and taking on larger opponents. “He was a big old farm boy,” said Brian Sharp. He was a state qualifier at 167 in 1971, when he helped the Hawks to the team title. Then, as a senior in 1972, he captured an individual crown at 185. Justice went 50-8-1 in his career.
220: Ross Larson. Larson won a state title at Ballard (Huxley) in 2011 before transferring to Ankeny, where he went on to win a second crown at 195 in 2012. As a senior, he turned in one of the most dominant seasons in Iowa wrestling history, going 43-0 with a school-record 38 falls–all of them in the first period. He pinned three of his four opponents at the state tournament, capped off by a fall over Bud Smith of Southeast Polk in 1 minute 21 seconds in the finals. A three-time state qualifier, he also led the Hawks to a fifth-place finish in the state duals tournament. Larson finished with a career record of 120-22. “I think Ross is probably one of the top five seniors in the country,” Ewing said at the time. He went on to wrestle for Oklahoma, where he was a four-year starter at heavyweight.
285: Shane Spooner. Spooner won a state title at heavyweight in 2004 as a junior, when he pinned three of his four opponents at the state tournament, including a fall over Blake Rowland of Cedar Rapids Washington in 1 minute in the finals. “His confidence was a major factor in his success. He didn’t think he could get beat by anybody,” Ewing said at the time. Spooner then placed third as a senior after losing to Rowland, 3-1, in overtime in the semifinals. He went 67-3 over his last two seasons and had a 61-match winning streak. He finished his career with a 92-16 mark. Spooner, who was also a standout in football, track and baseball, was No. 43 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list of greatest athletes.
106: Austin Anderson. Anderson was a three-time state qualifier and a two-time placewinner for the Hawks. He placed fifth at 103 as a sophomore in 2011, then took fourth at 120 as a senior in 2013, when he set a pair of school records with 45 wins and 152 takedowns. He also helped Ankeny to a 31-2 record, the most wins in school history, and a fifth-place finish in the state duals tournament. Anderson remains the winningest wrestler ever at AHS with a career record of 149-27. He went on to wrestle at Iowa State before returning to his alma mater to become an assistant coach under Wignall.
113: Travis Evans. Like Anderson, Evans was a dominant wrestler at the lower weights for the Hawks, becoming a three-time placewinner under Ewing. He took fourth at 112 as a sophomore in 2006, then placed fifth at 119 as a junior and fourth at 119 as a senior. He finished his career with a record of 137-27. Evans went on to become a member of the first wrestling team at Grand View University and later helped the Vikings to the NAIA national championship in 2012–the first of eight consecutive titles for the powerhouse program.
120: Ben Monroe. Monroe is the first of three Centennial standouts on the all-time team. An Iowa State recruit, he enjoyed a tremendous career for the Jaguars. He was a four-time placewinner and a three-time runner-up; the only thing missing from his resume is a state title. He took second at 106 as a freshman, at 120 as a sophomore and at 132 as a junior. After dropping a 7-6 decision to eventual champion Graham Gambrall of Iowa City West in a 145-pound quarterfinal at this year’s tournament, Monroe rebounded with four straight victories to earn a third-place finish, capped off by a 7-5 win over top-ranked Deven Strief of North Scott that avenged an earlier loss. He went 40-3 this season and finished his career with a 160-16 mark, the most wins ever by an Ankeny wrestler. Monroe is the captain of our second team.
126: Eric Owens. Owens also starred for Centennial in recent seasons, earning a second-place finish at 145 as a senior in 2019, when he also helped the Jaguars to a 21-1 record and a third-place finish in the state duals tournament. He knocked off top-ranked Deville Dentis of Des Moines East in the semifinals before falling to No. 2 Collin Lewis of North Scott in the finals. He finished the season with a 37-5 record. Owens, who also placed sixth at 113 as a sophomore, is now wrestling for Iowa State.
132: Nate Bagby. Bagby was a three-time state qualifier in the 1990s, helping the Hawks to a 29-10 record over his final two seasons. As a senior in 1998, he lost in a 135-pound quarterfinal to eventual champion Brandon Livingood of Decorah, but then rebounded with four straight wins to earn a third-place finish, capped off by a 5-2 victory over Bill Neville of Dowling. He finished his career with a record of 120-25.
138: Lynn Pitts. Pitts is one of the nine wrestlers on the second team who earned runner-up honors at the state tournament. He placed second at 138 in 1968. He finished with a career record of 40-8-1.
145: Sam Kallem. Kallem was a two-time placewinner who helped Ankeny to a seventh-place finish in this year’s Class 3A tournament, the Hawks’ best performance since the split into two high schools in 2013. He placed second at 145 and finished with a 35-5 record after taking seventh at 132 as a junior. Kallem advanced to the finals before dropping a 10-5 decision to Graham Gambrall of Iowa City West. He closed out his career with a mark of 139-36. He will wrestle for Grand View next year.
152: Joe Smith. He may have an ordinary name, but Smith was anything but ordinary on the mat. He was one of the leaders of the 1969-70 team that posted an 11-0 record, and he placed second in the state tournament at 155. He finished his career with a record of 54-22.
160: Aaron Baugher. Baugher was a state runner-up at 160 in 1991, when he won an overtime match in the semifinals before falling to top-ranked Sean Scarbrough of Waterloo Columbus in the title match. He went 28-3 as a senior and finished his career with a record of 51-19. He also helped the Hawks to back-to-back 11-5 seasons. Baugher went on to play football at Mankato State and is now an assistant football coach at Ankeny.
170: Ken McNear. McNear became Ankeny’s first finalist under Ewing in 1989, when he reached the title match at 160 before settling for a second-place finish. He went 24-7-1 in his career.
182: Logan Neils. Neils was a three-time qualifier and a two-time placewinner for Centennial who went 114-14 over his last three seasons. He placed fourth at 160 as a sophomore before taking second at 170 last year, when he helped the Jaguars to a fourth-place finish in Class 3A–their highest ever. Neils qualified for state again this year as a senior, when he won his first 40 matches and was ranked No. 1 all season.
195: Carson Powell. Powell was a three-time qualifier who placed third at 170 as a senior in 2012, when he went 38-5 and recorded 32 falls. After losing in the quarterfinals, Powell closed out his career with four consecutive wins to earn the third-place finish, capped off by three straight falls. He finished his career with a record of 117-37. He went on to wrestle for Iowa State.
220: Lou Solari. Solari was an undersized heavyweight who relied on his strength to become a two-time qualifier for the Hawks. As a senior in 1984, he placed third in the state tournament while helping his team to a 7-1-1 record. He finished with a career mark of 55-20. Solari went on to wrestle for Missouri.
285: Mike Fontana. Once he decided to go out for wrestling, Fontana became a two-time qualifier at superheavyweight, capped off by a second-place finish in 1987. Fontana, who attended a meeting for the basketball team as a junior before he elected to switch sports, took an unbeaten 23-0 record into his final high school match. He lost in the state finals in overtime to Brian Borota of Clinton, whose victory allowed the River Kings to edge Dowling for the team title. Fontana went on to become an all-American center on the Northern Iowa football team. He is now an assistant football and wrestling coach at Centennial.
Honorable mention: Charles Wheatly placed fourth at 112 in both 1971-72; Heavyweight Kory Krebs was also a two-time placewinner in 1971-72 who then moved with his family to Nevada, where he won a state title in 1973; Marty Higgins was a two-time placewinner who compiled a 53-10 record in 1977-78; Mike Porter was a two-time placewinner in 1984-85 who went on to wrestle for Drake; Steve Young was a three-time qualifier who placed third at 119 in 2000; Shawn Alexander was a two-time qualifier who racked up 117 career wins and placed fourth at 112 in 2001; and John Ware was a standout at both Ankeny and Centennial who was a three-time qualifier, placed fifth at 182 in 2015 and went on to wrestle for Grand View.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ankeny Fanatic teams were selected by publisher Dan Holm, who consulted with former and current coaches before making his picks.)