SOLON - It’s often been called the most pressure-filled tournament of the season, more so than even the state meet itself.
Competing at the class 2A district event in Solon Saturday, Feb. 13, where state tournament invitations were being handed out, Anamosa seniors Alex Casey and Nathan Keating used their experiences of competing at the enormous meet to make their way through all the drama and pressure, and will represent the Raider program at the sports highest level for the second straight season.
“These kids have put in the work, and are now reaping the rewards,” said Anamosa wrestling coach Bret Jones, as both Casey and Keating turned in district runner-up performances at 152-pounds and 195, respectively, and will continue their high school wrestling careers one more week competing at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“The district meet is a tough one, mentally and physically, and both Alex and Nathan and been through those battles before, and I think they used those experiences to help get them through a pair of very tough brackets in Solon.”
Casey (25-5 record), making his second-straight district appearance, opened with a huge 10-6 decision over Solon’s Caleb Ebert to get his tournament started.
“I wrestled the Solon kid earlier in the season and when the pairings came out as to who was going to be at the sectional and district meets, I knew if I made it to districts, I’d most likely be wrestling him,” Casey said. “So that’s what I had been working on in practice was to get ready to wrestle the kid and make sure I get through that round an onto the championship.”
Casey did exactly that, quickly taking Ebert down mere seconds into the bout before the Solon wrestler answered with a reversal to knot the score at 2-2 after one period.
After Ebert scored an escape to start the second period, Casey closed it with a takedown to take a 4-3 lead into the final period.
“I felt confident with what I was doing and knew I could pull away in the third period,” Casey said. “All my work preparing for this match paid off, I was able to do what I wanted to do to get the win.”
Casey started the third period in the bottom position and quickly scored an escape before taking Ebert down to take a 7-3 lead.
But Ebert quickly responded, scoring an escape followed by a takedown to close to within two points, at 7-6, before the Anamosa senior closed the match in style.
Casey scored a one-point escape followed by a huge takedown with a mere 12-seconds left on the clock to clinch the triumph.
In the 152 finals against West Delaware’s fifth-ranked Jadyn Peyton, Casey was handed a 2:46 pin defeat, and would have to wrestle-back for his state tournament berth.
“Peyton is a pretty good wrestler, and while I could get in on his legs, once we got down onto the mat, he was like a brick wall,” Casey said. “Tough to do anything against.”
Casey would face Camanche’s Brennan Kramer in the wrestle-back, with the winner advancing to Wells Fargo Arena, and the loser heading home.
“I didn’t come this far to head home,” Casey said. “I was mentally prepared that if I didn’t beat Peyton that I’d most likely have a wrestle-back, so I was ready when it was time to wrestle Kramer.”
Casey set the tone early scoring a first period takedown and led 2-0 after two minutes of action before Kramer answered in the second period scoring a takedown of his down to knot the score at 2-2. Casey ended the period in style however, scoring an escape and then added a huge takedown to take a 5-2 lead into the final period, one he would completely control.
“I was a little nervous coming into this match knowing what it meant, but I saw pretty early on that Kramer was tired and I used that to my advantage,” Casey said. “I made it my goal to just wear him out, and eventually, I was able to do that.”
After Kramer scored an early escape to start the third period, Casey cruised tallying a takedown and then a three-point nearfall that handed the Raider senior a 10-3 lead.
Kramer closed the match with a late reversal, but Casey had his coveted state tournament berth.
“That’s what you work for all season, to get to the state tournament,” he said. “Now that I’m there, it my goal to make it up onto the podium.”
Keating (29-8), wrestling in his fourth straight district tournament, started his tournament much like Casey, with an impressive semi-final triumph over Central DeWitt’s Mitchell Howard.
“We didn’t know a lot about the DeWitt kid other than that he was a grinder,” said Jones, as Keating cruised to a lopsided 5:48 pin victory.
“We needed Nate to get his shots in early and take him down quick, and he was able to do exactly that.”
Keating scored a takedown and a reversal in the first period and led 4-2 before adding a second period two-point nearfall to take a 6-2 lead into the final period.
“I knew I just needed to work my stuff and I could win that first match,” Keating said. “Experience helped me through the tournament too, I’ve been here several times before and know what it takes to win.”
The third period once again saw Keating dominate, scoring an escape, takedown, two-point nearfall and reversal before getting Howard on his back to end the bout.
In the finals against West Delaware’s top-ranked Wyatt Voelker, Keating was handed a 2:27 pin defeat and like Casey, would have to wrestle-back for a shot at state.
“I knew coming in that it was going to be a longshot for me to beat Voelker, but that match sure didn’t go as planned,” Keating said. “He’s just not a very good match-up for me. He’s not a good match-up for just about everybody.”
In the 195 wrestle-back, Keating ended the drama quickly scoring nine first period points enroute to a huge 18-2 technical fall triumph over Maquoketa’s Lane Stender.
“The Maquoketa kid likes to tie you up, and Nate made sure he didn’t get sucked into that,” Jones said. “All of a sudden, he had 18 points. It was just that quick, and a great way to head into the state tournament.”
Casey opens his state journey Thursday, Feb. 18, with a very familiar first-round opponent in Peyton, who he has faced each of the last two weekends.
“I’m thinking the 2A 152-pound bracket could change, because that’s just not something you normally see having two kids from the same sectional and district face each other in the first-round at state. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Nine of the top-10 152-pound state ranked wrestlers will be in Des Moines as Casey has top-ranked Jack Gaukel (Sergeant Bluff-Luton), fourth-ranked Colby Tool (PCM-Monroe) and seventh-ranked Carl Barkema (Hampton-Dumont) all on his side of the bracket.
Keating opens his 195-pound journey in Des Moines on Thursday against Davenport Assumption’s sixth-ranked Aiden Morgan as eight of the top-10 wrestlers earned berths to state in the class. Top-seeded Voelker, fourth-ranked Reese Moore (Forest City), fifth-ranked Mason Askelsen (Ballard) and 10th-ranked Joe Larrimore (Gilbert) are all on Keating side of the bracket.