It is the toughest ticket in Iowa high school sports.
For the past 29 years, the final night of the state wrestling tournament has been a sell out. Iowa High School Athletic Association officials are projecting it to happen again this season.
When the 97th state tournament commences Thursday morning at Wells Fargo Arena, there are 672 wrestlers chasing a state championship. By late Saturday night, only 42 wrestlers (14 in each of the three classes) will have their arm raised and join state tournament lore.
There are 51 wrestlers from the Quad-Cities metro and surrounding area participating this week. Here are five storylines starting with Wednesday's state duals competition.
Davenport Assumption and North Scott are the two Quad-Cities programs in the state duals.
Assumption (15-4), seeking a sixth duals title in the last seven years, opens against Creston/Orient-Macksburg (20-3) at 9 a.m. Wednesday in a Class 2A quarterfinal. North Scott (27-1) faces Fort Dodge (14-1) in a 3A quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
While Assumption is making its 10th consecutive trip, North Scott qualified for the third time in the last 11 years. The school's best finish is third in 2000 and 2001.
"We'll have to wrestle tough against Fort Dodge," North Scott 113-pound senior Jacob Schipper said. "It is not going to be handed to us. It won't be like past duals. It'll take everything we've got."
All in the family
Assumption, Pleasant Valley and West Liberty each have a set of brothers chasing state championships this week.
PV's Eli and Ryan Loyd are in the Class 3A field. Eli, a freshman ranked eighth at 120 pounds, was the district champion in Eldridge and enters with a 43-7 record. Ryan, a senior and a district champion at 160, is 30-15.
In 2A, Assumption's Julien and Noah Broderson won district titles last Saturday at 160 and 220 pounds, respectively. Julien, making his state tournament debut Thursday, is 39-2 and considered one of the favorites at his weight.
Noah, a senior who placed third last year, is 36-3 and ranked No. 1.
"There would be no better feeling than both of us winning state," Noah said before the start of the season.
West Liberty's Will and Bryce Esmoil were district champions last week in Maquoketa at 106 and 195. Will, a freshman, is ranked fourth and 38-5. Bryce, a junior, is 38-2 and seeks to improve upon last year's third-place finish.
Johnston has 12 individual qualifiers, the most of any team in the three classifications. Fort Dodge has 11 while North Scott and Southeast Polk each bring 10 to Wells Fargo Arena in Class 3A.
North Scott has never finished better than fifth at the traditional tournament.
"This is a record-breaking team," North Scott 126-pound district champion Caleb McCabe said. "This is the best team we've ever had. We've put in the work for this one week in February."
In Class 2A, Solon has the most individuals with eight. Assumption, Atlantic, Creston/Orient-Macksburg, Mount Vernon, Mount Pleasant, South Tama and Spirit Lake Park all qualified six.
Don Bosco and Lisbon lead the 1A contingent with nine qualifiers apiece. Sibley-Ocheyedan has eight, followed by Missouri Valley and Interstate 35 with seven each.
Bulldogs send 7 to the Well
Bettendorf does not have a returning state place winner on its team this season. Many anticipated it would be a down season for the Bulldogs.
But even with its youth and inexperience, Bettendorf managed to qualify seven wrestlers for the state tournament. Aiden Evans (106 pounds), Will Jefferson (132), Mason Morris (138) and Alex Lopez (170) were district champions for Bettendorf.
Jefferson and Lopez qualified last year but both dropped their first two matches.
Bettendorf has had at least one state champion each of the last five seasons.
Intriguing first-round matches
Here are five of the more compelling first-round matches involving local competitors:
3A-138: Mason Morris, Bettendorf vs. Ryker Kurimski, Western Dubuque: Morris (30-10) comes into the tournament riding high with a win over North Scott's Collin Lewis in the district final. Kurimski has won 37 matches.
3A-195: Sam Serrano, Davenport Central vs. Sam Pape, Cedar Rapids Kennedy: Serrano is ranked ninth and Pape eighth. Serrano was a district champion and brings in a 25-6 record. Pape is 28-13.
3A-220: Wyatt Wriedt, North Scott vs. Jacob Eggleston, Waverly-Shell Rock: Wriedt is defending state champion and 40-1 but Eggleston has 42 wins and is ranked fourth. Wriedt beat him a year ago. They haven't met this season.
2A-106: Will Esmoil, West Liberty vs. Carter Weeks, Vinton-Shellsburg: Esmoil, ranked fourth, has had a stellar freshman season with 38 wins and a district title. Weeks, ranked fifth, is 34-7.
1A-120: Ben Emrich, Tipton vs. Connor Lange, Missouri Valley: Emrich was the district runner-up, but he comes in with a 40-4 mark and ranked 10th in his class. He'll face Lange, who is 39-2 and ranked fifth.