It was a memorable state tournament for the Ankeny girls’ wrestling team.
Ankeny placed seventh in the two-day event that concluded on Friday night at Xtream Arena in Coralville, finishing with 86 points. The team had placed 40th a year ago in its inaugural season.
“I think it is absolutely amazing to have seen our program grow so much in one year,” said senior Dana Cleveland, who was one of the team’s eight state qualifiers.
Top-ranked Decorah easily won the tournament with 141 points. No. 7 East Buchanan and No. 10 Raccoon River-Northwest tied for second with 96 points.
No. 4 Ankeny had three placewinners and finished just 10 points out of the runner-up spot.
“What an emotional rollercoaster the last two days have been,” said Ankeny coach Dustin Roland. “From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in a matter of minutes. I am so proud of how much growth this (tournament) brought us. From tears of heartbreak to tears of elation in just minutes, we were all putting the pieces back together and trying to move on just to do it all over again in a matter of minutes. Over and over.
“The team race was so close that on Friday morning we jumped from fourth to second to 10th to third to ninth. It was absolutely crazy with all the upsets going on–and we were on both sides of that. I walked away feeling like we really strengthened our relationships together after experiencing this. We ultimately finished in seventh, which was not what we wanted but in the big picture was a huge stepping stone for our program. From one state placewinner to three was a step in the right direction. With one class, there was so much parity that it really came down to one thing that made a difference in many of the matches,” he added.
Ankeny was led by junior Haylee McGrew, who placed second at 155 pounds. The fifth-seeded McGrew was pinned by No. 2 Nicole Olson of Missouri Valley in 3 minutes 44 seconds in the championship match.
Olson, who joined her brother in winning a state title, closed out her senior season with a 43-1 record. McGrew finished with a 33-3 mark.
“I’ve made a lot of friends since I started wrestling, and most of the girls I had to wrestle over the last couple days I consider part of them,” said McGrew, who placed seventh at 155 a year ago while competing for Des Moines Public Schools. “I had wrestled Nicki before at IAWRESTLE’s Night of Conflict right before the season began.”
McGrew advanced to the finals with a stunning fall over No. 1 Skylar Slade of Southeast Polk earlier on Friday.
“I wasn’t really in shock. It was more of an accomplishment and hard work paying off,” McGrew said. “I believe everyone is beatable at some point. I’ve been working really hard with my Ankeny coaches and my club coach Chad, and so I just tried to stay focused, trust my training and give it all I got.”
McGrew turned Slade onto her back and pinned her in 3:00. She handed the sophomore her first loss in 47 matches this season.
“In a tournament riddled with upsets, there were none bigger than Haylee’s semifinal victory over the No. 8 girl in the country,” Roland said. “In the end, this is a brutal sport that left her one spot shy of achieving her goal. She will likely lace them back up again (Saturday) and start working toward that goal again next season.”
McGrew was joined on the awards podium by teammates Hayden Bratland and Nora Bockes. Bratland placed third at 140, while Bockes finished seventh at 110.
The sixth-seeded Bratland posted a 5-0 decision over No. 7 Cadence Bushong of Nevada in the third-place match. The freshman went 5-1 in the tournament and finished with a 39-4 record.
“Hayden made a big statement after dropping a disappointing semifinal match and bouncing back to finish third in true championship fashion,” Roland said.
Earlier on Friday, Bratland was pinned by No. 2 Shaylee Sutherland of Spencer in 5:27 in the semifinals. She then rebounded with a fall over Diana Gaie of Des Moines Public Schools in 1:48 in a consolation semifinal.
“I was devastated after losing that match, especially because I have beaten (Sutherland) before and I had high hopes to make it to the finals,” said Bratland. “But I knew I had to climb back for that third place because I wouldn’t be able to settle for anything less. And I’m more happy being able to finish with a win so I’m not upset, and also it’s just my first year so I still have a while to go.”
The No. 11 Bockes became a placewinner when she pinned No. 7 Lila Walding of Sergeant Bluff-Luton in 2:42 in the blood round on Friday morning.
“I was excited to place this year since i did not last year, and this was my goal all season,” said Bockes. “I was able to get a half in at the end of the first period and almost had the fall, but ran out of time. When she picked bottom (for the second period), I knew I could get back to that for the pin.”
Bockes was pinned by No. 3 Mariah Michels of St. Ansgar in 3:18 in a fifth-round consolation match, but then posted an 8-1 decision over Abby Jager of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont in the seventh-place match. The sophomore went 5-2 at the tournament and finished at 38-9.
“Nora has had complete trust in the process this season and gutted her way to a state medal,” Roland said.
The second-seeded Cleveland also competed in the blood round on Friday at 145. She dropped an 11-3 major decision to No. 6 Anastasia Simon of Decorah, who went on to place third and helped the Vikings to the team title.
Simon avenged a 10-4 loss to Cleveland in the consolation bracket of last year’s tournament.
“Our hearts were broken for Dana, who came just shy of placing in her final state tournament,” Roland said. “In the end, she showed her true character as she continued to be the rock of our team when both athletes and coaches needed her leadership the most. Words will never be able to describe the impact she will forever have on the Ankeny girls’ program.”
Cleveland, who placed fourth at 135 a year ago to become Ankeny’s first-ever placewinner, finished the season at 40-3.
“I feel like we did well throughout the tournament and some things didn’t go quite as planned, but we were able to regroup,” Cleveland said. “It’s amazing to see the team get (close to) a top-five finish, and I am extremely proud and know that our program will continue to grow and flourish.”
Roland agreed with Cleveland’s assessment.
“As a staff, we are proud of what we all were able to do and the jumps we made this year,” he said. “We would rather finish seventh with this specific team of young ladies than any higher spot with anyone else in the state. We will take about four weeks off before we start our quest for the 2024-25 season on March 6! Thank you to our girls, parents and administration for their trust, belief and support throughout this season.”