DES MOINES — Bryce Esmoil was born in 2000, the last time West Liberty crowned a state wrestling champion.
Seventeen years later, Esmoil has ended the wait for the Comets.
Esmoil took Woodward-Granger freshman Cody Fisher to his back less than 30 seconds into the match and cruised to a 15-0 technical fall victory in 3 minutes, 45 seconds Saturday night in the Class 2A 195-pound championship match at Wells Fargo Arena.
“It is amazing,” Esmoil said.
The West Liberty junior was seventh as a freshman. He was undefeated coming to the state tournament last year, lost a semifinal match and settled for third.
Even after two early losses to Class 3A state-ranked competition, Esmoil reeled off more than 35 consecutive wins to finish the year 42-2. He is the school’s seventh state champion and first since Keith Pearl in 2000.
“It is way more sweeter,” Esmoil said. “Every second of this finals match was amazing. Last year was terrible.”
Esmoil hugged his mother afterward.
“That’s special,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
He built a 4-0 lead after the first period and then put Fisher on his back three times in the second period to finish it off.
“I just wanted to score points as fast I could,” he said.
Lisbon freshman Cael Happel, brother of last year’s four-time state champion and current Hawkeye, Carter, downed Wapello’s Devon Meeker 21-6 in 4:10.
It was the third time this season Happel had beaten Meeker, the last two by technical fall.
“I tried staying lower in my stance because I knew he would try to shoot straight on,” Meeker said. “I was trying to get into the legs more often. It just didn’t happen.”
Meeker closed his career with two top-four medals at the state tournament. And he’ll have the memory of wrestling in a state final.
“I’ve always wondered what it felt like to wrestle in the state finals, and now I know,” he said. “It would have been nice to come out on top and see what that felt like, but it was still a great feeling. It is the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had.”
Columbus Community’s Jarod Kadel dropped his 2A championship match at 106, 4-0, to top-ranked Grayson Kesterson of Williamsburg. It was the third consecutive weekend Kesterson had beaten him but this was the closest encounter.
Kesterson tallied a first-period takedown and third-period reversal for the victory.
In 2A consolation, West Liberty freshman Will Esmoil (106) and junior Joe Kelly (152) each placed third. Esmoil won five consecutive matches after a first-round overtime loss, including avenging that setback against Carter Weeks of Vinton-Shellsburg in the consolation semifinals.
Columbus Community’s Tucker Morrison was fifth at 170, Camanche’s Nate Thoms concluded sixth at 138 and Central DeWitt’s Nick Smith won his final match to take seventh at 220. He is the school’s first state medalist since 2012.
Wilton’s Trey Brisker earned his third top-three state finish with two consolation wins Saturday in 1A. Brisker led in Friday night’s semifinal before getting reversed to his back and pinned.
“I had my 10 minutes of, ‘Well, this sucks, I should have won,’” Brisker said. “After that, it is focusing on getting your mind right and getting ready to battle some more.”
Brisker goes into his senior season with 134 career wins. The only thing missing from his resume is a state championship.
“Next year, I need to keep this mindset,” he said. “I think I wrestled a different pace after I lost than I did before. I just need to keep that without having to lose is my goal. I’m shooting for gold.”
His teammate, Bryce Oveson, placed fourth at 182 as did Louisa-Muscatine’s Austin Leopard (138). Bellevue’s Mason Lyons (195) earned a fifth-place medal and Wapello’s Daniel Meeker (106) took sixth.