Seeded third and just a couple wins over .500 for the season, Cael Bredar was considered almost a long shot to emerge out of his weight class at Saturday's Mississippi Athletic Conference tournament.
The underdog seized the opportunity.
The North Scott 113-pound sophomore upended Davenport Assumption's TJ Fitzpatrick in the semifinals, 7-0, and controlled Davenport Central's Cameron Heinz, the top seed, 9-1, in the finals for his first MAC title at Davenport West High School.
"This is such a big confidence boost," Bredar said. "I lost to Heinz (last year), and Fitzpatrick beat me earlier this year. It is big to get both of those wins today.
"It is the end of the year, and I'm starting to put everything together."
Bredar, Caleb McCabe (126 pounds) and Jake Matthaidess (160) won titles for the Lancers as they repeated as tournament champions with 250 points. Assumption finished second with 216.5 points, and Bettendorf was third at 168.
After going a decade without a conference championship, North Scott has firmly established itself as the dominant program in the league.
Even without state-ranked 145-pounder Collin Lewis (injury), the Lancers had all 14 wrestlers place in the top five, including eight finalists. They haven't lost a conference dual meet in two years.
"I'm so proud of this team," North Scott coach Drew Kelly said after being named coach of the year for a second straight season. "We've faced a lot of adversity this season, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight of a tournament.
"We had guys step up at every weight."
Bredar was among the biggest standouts.
After losing to Fitzpatrick 3-0 in the dual meet earlier this month, Bredar has steadily improved. He performed well at the Geneseo tournament two weeks ago with a fourth-place finish.
In the final against Heinz, he had three takedowns and two back points late to control the match.
"He's controlling his weight a lot better," Kelly said. "When he puts himself in good positions and gets to his offense, he can wrestle with anybody."
McCabe defended his 126-pound conference title. He pinned Pleasant Valley's Justin Harrington in the opening minute of the finals.
"This is one of the goals you write down on the goal sheet at the beginning of the year," McCabe said. "The motivation is huge right now. Getting on the podium (at state) has been a big emphasis on the whole season."
Matthaidess posted a 10-0 major decision over Assumption's Kole Kreinbring in the final at 160. The Lancers had runner-up finishes from Josh Connor (106), Deven Strief (138), Drew Durant (170), TJ Yates (182) and Zach Petersen (220).
"The program expectations are there," Kelly said. "We've got tremendous support, an unbelievable kids club and coaches at all levels who are great people. Everybody believes in what we're doing, and they're wrestling well."
Eight of the 10 MAC schools had at least one individual champion.
Assumption junior Julien Broderson was recognized as the MAC wrestler of the year. Undefeated and a three-time MAC champion, Broderson had two first-period pins to improve to 27-0 on the season.
"There are a lot of tough kids in the MAC, possibly four or five state champs," Broderson said. "To be named the best is an honor."
Teammate Trenton McDonough (106) joined Broderson as a champion.
In what has been a topsy-turvy season for McDonough, he beat Connor 9-2 in the final.
"I debated whether or not I was going to go out this year after my injury last year," McDonough said. "It has been a slow start, but I'm coming together at the right time. I'm starting to figure things out and getting back to the mentality where I was before I was injured."
PV's Eli Loyd (132) claimed his second MAC title. In the third meeting in the past 10 days, Loyd knocked off Assumption's Matt Robertson in the final, 8-4. The two have alternated wins in the three meetings.
"I came in a little overconfident (at Bob Lueders) and didn't wrestle a full match, was going for big moves and didn't stay in good position," Loyd said. "This definitely tells me that I'm going down the right path to the top of the podium (at state)."
Bettendorf crowned two champions — Will Jefferson (138) and Mason Morris (145). Jefferson silenced Strief 6-0, and Morris dialed up an 11-3 major decision over Clinton's Jess Chapman.
It was particularly sweet for Morris who came up short in last year's finals.
"It just shows how much I've gained from last year and how much I'm improving," Morris said. "I've still got to get better, but this gives me a positive boost."
Burlington's Duncan Delzell (120) and Mason Hartman (220), Clinton's Ben Chapman (152) and Ethan Barry (195), Davenport Central's Levon Bellemy (170) and Muscatine's Nolan Bell (285) also won championships.
Bellemy was thrown to his back in the opening seconds against Durant but rallied for a 13-9 win.
"I let my technique go and just tried to muscle him up," Bellemy said. "That didn't work out too well. Once I took him down the first time, he wasn't as good as I thought he was. I could get him, and it was my match."
Bell repeated as MAC champion at 285, a weight class with four state-ranked wrestlers. Bell avenged an earlier loss to Central's Manny McGowan in the semifinals, 2-1, and scored a late takedown to beat Bettendorf freshman Griffin Liddle in the final, 5-3.
"There was a lot more competition this year," Bell said, "so it means a lot more to me."