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Iowa Pacesetter: Bettendorf freshman Koester always on the attack
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Iowa Pacesetter: Bettendorf freshman Koester always on the attack

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As TJ Koester came up through Bettendorf’s youth wrestling program, there is one word his father continually uttered that has stuck with him.

“Attack, attack, attack,” Koester remarked.

Labeled quiet and unassuming away from the mat, the Bettendorf High School 106-pound freshman is anything but that once he steps into the circle.

Koester, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A at his weight class by, is 20-1 heading into Thursday night’s Mississippi Athletic Conference dual against Davenport Assumption.

Of those 20 victories, 13 have come by pin in the first or second period. He has registered a couple of technical fall victories and a major decision over 2A fourth-ranked Aiden Smith of Atlantic.

“I just like to shoot, get after the guy and not let him rest,” Koester said. “A lot of the kids just can’t keep up because I have a really high intensity.”

Koester, this week's Iowa Pacesetter, was named the most outstanding 106-pounder at The Clash last weekend, a national 32-team dual tournament held in La Crosse, Wis. He was 6-0 with five pins and a 9-5 decision over an opponent from Vacaville, Calif.

His early success is not shocking.

Koester, who has been wrestling since he was 5 or 6, won multiple AAU state championships coming up through the Bettendorf Wrestling Club. How many?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I never keep track.”

He was a 2021 U14 national freestyle champion and placed fourth in the freshman-sophomore division of the high school preseason national folkstyle competition in early November.

“I don’t think he’s really in awe of anything,” said Bettendorf coach Dan Knight, who has known Koester since he was in first or second grade. “He’s a freshman competing at the high school level, but it helps because he’s competed in big national tournaments for many, many years.

“These kids that come in with so much mat time, you can’t put a price tag on that. He expects to be a state champion this year, and he’s proven himself right now that he’s right in the thick of things.”

Fort Dodge sophomore Dru Ayala, fifth at last year’s state tournament and brother of current Iowa Hawkeye 125-pounder Drake Ayala, handed Koester his only loss. Ayala clipped Koester 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the Dan Gable Donnybrook Invitational in December.

It was the only match this season in which Koester didn’t register a takedown.

“I just learned I’ve got to work harder, got to be more technical and clean up my stuff,” Koester said. “Hopefully, I’ll beat him next time.”

Since then, Koester has had only one down-to-the-wire bout. He outlasted second-ranked Carter Pearson of Southeast Polk in the teams’ dual meet on Dec. 18, 3-2.

Koester struck for an early takedown and then staved off a late push from Pearson in the final seconds.

“TJ is very good at certain positions,” Knight said. “He does a very good job of getting to where he’s good, and it is really hard to get him out of his game plan.

“He’s going to find a way to get to his tie, which makes him comfortable and that opens up his attack. He doesn’t get taken out of his game technically very much.”

More attacks lead to more scoring. Koester is racking up points consistently.

“He has a really high attack rate,” Knight said. “He’s on kids from the start. That’s something we’ve stressed to our kids. If you take enough shots, you’re going to score.”

Koester has become just as dangerous on top as he is on his feet.

Coming back from winter break, Koester has had four pins in under a minute and two others in the second period.

“One area he’s improved on over the years is the top position,” Knight said. “He can turn good people on top, he can ride people and he can get away. There isn’t one area where you say he’s young and really needs to develop."

That's because he's only a freshman in age, not mat experience.

Koester has gone all across the country competing in tournaments. He’s also gone to multiple wrestling clubs to get instruction.

His father, Tim, wrestled at Rockridge High School. TJ’s younger brother, Brayden, is a seventh grader who wrestles.

“It is a credit to dad because he’s taken his boys a lot of places,” Knight said. “They take wrestling very seriously and it is a huge part of their life.”

Still, Koester is not fixated on results. He admits he doesn’t think that much about winning state championships. It is all about the next match, next tournament and making continual improvement.

“I just go there and wrestle, have fun with the team and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “My dad has always said you can’t change the outcome of the match. There is no point in crying over it.”

So far, there has been little reason to be upset.

As his confidence has grown on the mat, Knight has seen the 14-year-old become more extroverted.

“He’s a very quiet kid, goes about his business, doesn’t say a whole lot and works hard,” Knight said, “but this year I’ve seen him come out of his shell a little bit. He’s talked more this year than I’ve ever heard him talk.

"Usually, he's a pretty serious kid."


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Sports Editor

Sports editor, with my emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 21 years, the last nine at the Q-C Times.

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