ANAMOSA - Anyone who has competed under Anamosa wrestling coach Denny Christenson knows they guy was one of the best motivators in the entire state.
Heck, maybe the country.
Christenson constantly brought out the best in each and every one of his athletes during what was a long and distinguished career that ended right here in Anamosa in the late 1990s.
Christenson had an incredible power to will his wrestlers to wins, even when often times his wrestlers may have been the lesser talented of the two out on the mat at the time.
That, is coaching, and a reason why the Raiders had one of the top wrestling programs in the area back in the winters of 1996 and 1997, as a pair of Anamosa superstars (Matt Gogel and Jeff Dirks) advanced all the way to state championship matches, one in each of those memorable campaigns.
The first to make it all the way to the title tilt was Gogel, a four-time Anamosa wrestling MVP who was already a Raider legend when he battled for a class 2A 135-pound championship in Feb. of ’96, at old Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium.
Gogel was on a mission that winter, winning his third straight Big Bend Conference tournament title (held that year in Anamosa) while Christenson was tabbed Conference Coach of the Year (he had also won the award previously when Anamosa was a member of the WaMaC).
Gogel cruised through the sectional round, pinning Mount Vernon’s Alex Morf in the finals in a mere 47-seconds, and led the Raiders to a second-place finish in the team standings that advanced Anamosa to the regional team dual tournament.
Gogel kept working, placing second at the district meet, and with teammates Jeff Dirks (125-pounds) and Jeremy Manternach (160), advanced to the state tournament.
Manternach advanced to the second day of the tournament before bowing out while Dirks soaked up valuable experience that he would use to fuel for a sensational run in ’97.
Gogel defeated Wilton’s highly-ranked Ben Shirk 10-5 to get things started (many had Shirk pegged to make the finals that year), then in the quarter-final round hammered out a 7-3 triumph over Laurens-Northwest’s Jeremy Mills. In the semi-finals Gogel cruised to a 6-1 victory over South Winneshiek’s Ryan Pavlovek to advance to championship Saturday Night in Des Moines.
In the 135-pound final, the Anamosa senior closed his career with a 10-0 setback, but had already solidified himself as one of the greatest Raider wrestlers of all-time.
Dirks, just a year later, followed Gogel’s lead and wrestled for a class 2A 125-pound state title, being handed a 5:54 pin setback at the hands of Estherville’s undefeated Luke Moffitt, though the Raider senior trailed just 2-0 entering the third period.
Like Gogel, Dirks had plenty of company with him in Des Moines in ’97, as Josh Brown (135) and Aaron Gerst (189) also advanced to state.
For Brown, a junior, it was his second appearance at Vet’s after also making it as a freshman.
Dirks opened his state journey with a hard-fought 8-6 victory over Forest City’s Chris Boran before a wild 7-5 overtime win against Osceola-Clark’s Mark Paschell advanced the Raider star to the semi-finals where he defeated Algona’s Nate Dau, 4-3.
Dirks’ season was record-breaking, finishing with a phenomenal 38 triumphs while dropping a mere four.
The run to state was also inspiring, as an impressive seven Raider wrestlers (Dirks, Brown, Gerst, Chris Smith, Corey Bower, Brian Dietiker and David Christenson) all advanced through sectionals helping Anamosa to another runner-up team showing at the event.
“I was very happy with how everyone wrestled,” said Denny Christenson after the ’97 state tournament.
“It was a great season, and I think we’ve shown that we have the kind of wrestlers here at Anamosa that will allow us to have more great seasons to come.”
Christenson would eventually hand over the head coaching duties to his assistant Brett Moews, who when he resigned a couple of years later, gave Ron Timp the chance to lead the program to amazing heights coaching Anamosa’s all-time greatest wrestler Moza Fay, who gave the Raiders four state tournament berths and an amazing two state championships.