Central wrestling is a growing program with high expectations

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The Central boys wrestling team includes (front, left to right) manager Kendra Whittle, Preston Kulper, manager Addison Amsden; (middle) Nick Dietchler, Collin Jaster, Jonah Burns, Braxton Bormann, Jacob Cook; (back) coach Joe Koehn, Daniel Royer, Sam Fettkether, Nate Shirbroun, Carter Krugger and assistant coach Tim Rupard.

Members of the Central girls wrestling team include (front, left to right) manager Regan Rosol, Reese Berns, Taylor Moser, Jaydin Dettman, manager Addison Amsden, manager Kendra Whittle; (back) coach Colten Ledbeter, Kimberly Suhr, Tori Sylvester, Rebecca Suhr, Mayleigh Medberry, Maci Keppler and assistant coach Abby Heitman.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The new wrestling season brings with it some changes, but some constants as well. One of the major changes is the sanctioning of high school girls wrestling in Iowa, which will split the Central program into two separate teams, with different, yet overlapping, head coaches. 


The constant is coach Joe Koehn, who remains at the helm of the boys program but will assist the burgeoning girls team. The decision to choose the boys was not an easy one given all Koehn has invested into building a solid girls wrestling team with the likes of returning sophomore Reese Berns, Central’s first state place winner in school history. 


But the pull of spending the last 10 years working with the boys, and cultivating those relationships, swayed the decision. So did the drive to get a member of the boys team to state, something Central hasn’t achieved since 2017. Koehn also hopes to watch Nick Dietchler and Daniel Royer achieve 100 victories this season. 


In combination, selecting the boys program felt like staying home, which means the main coaching duties for the girls team now falls to Colten Ledbeter, who was an assistant with Koehn in previous years. 


“At the end of the day, I knew I was going to still get to help with the girls, but I’ve been working with the boys and trying to build this program,” Koehn said.


When it comes to the season and expectations, there was a common refrain for both the coach and athletes: win more duals. This was the answer for Dietchler and Royer, both seniors, as well as freshman Braxton Bormann and third-year wrestlers Nate Shirbroun and Sam Fettkether. This group also has the expectation of getting a wrestler to state, which is another shared goal with their coach. 


“Obviously, I want to see every single kid succeed and have fun doing it,” Koehn said. “I really want to get somebody to state to build that excitement.” 


While getting a wrestler to state is certainly a possibility, with coach Koehn believing the team is “right there,” he added that getting to state is earned. 


“The thing with wrestling that’s different than all other sports is everything is earned. You don’t deserve it until you earn it,” he said. 


For the girls team, several wrestlers—including Rebecca Suhr, Maci Keppler and Mayleigh Medberry—provided insight into season expectations. In their first sanctioned season, they all shared similar thoughts, including a desire to just have fun. But there was also a results oriented response, especially from Keppler and Medberry, who said they want to “get better, win a lot and take a couple girls to state.” 


Given the results of their first dual of the season, that looks to be an achievable goal. 


In that dual, which took place last Friday night at Bellevue, Berns continued winning, placing first in the 115A bracket. She wasn’t alone at the top, with Taylor Moser (125), Medberry (135) and Rebecca Suhr (155) also finishing first in their brackets. Additionally, Kimberly Suhr (130) and Keppler (135) were second, while Jaydin Dettman (115) and Tori Sylvester (120) came in third. 


It was a successful night for the program in its first dual as a sanctioned sport, and well on its way to meeting the expectations of Keppler and Medberry.


Those results highlight the growth of the program and the new faces that round out the roster along with the returning Berns, Suhr sisters and Sylvester. 


The boys team is in a similar situation, returning a plethora of talent from last season in Dietchler, Royer, Shirbroun and Fettkether, but also adding a three-time AAU qualifier in freshman Braxton Bormann, who has wrestled for 13 years. Koehn also mentioned Collin Jaster, whose father was a state qualifier, as a wrestler to watch because he possesses “quick, fast and good movement.”  


The growth in the program is notable for another reason, and it will reveal itself in the results, as the Warriors won’t be forced to take as many forfeits this season. That could potentially lead to winning more duals, like everyone wants. Koehn wants to set a new school record for dual wins and achieve a 50 percent or higher win rate in duals. 


This might be the year, as the size of the team has grown from six to 10 wrestlers, meaning the Warriors can fill more weight classes. That includes 182 with sophomore Jacob Cook, 106 with freshman Jonah Burns, and freshman Preston Kulper and sophomore Carter Kruger in the already stacked 126-132 weight classes, which is where team leader and senior Dietchler wrestles. 


One thing Koehn likes about the additional weight classes being filled, apart from taking fewer forfeits and winning more matches, is the removal of an excuse if the team loses a dual. It emphasizes that every match matters because now the team has a chance to win every dual, as opposed to knowing before the dual started that the team would lose due to forfeits. As Koehn said, it means the Warriors will all “have to pay attention to the details.” 


All of the above are counted as strengths in the mind of Koehn, and the girls interviewed thought the same. Both teams have a bevy of experience and team chemistry that promotes positivity and fun, and they’re always putting the work in too. But there are weaknesses in both programs. 


On the girls side, it’s some inexperienced newcomers, though the early season results don’t appear to suggest this will be an issue. For the boys, though, there is the lingering question of whether they have improved the bottom problems that plagued  last season. 


In an effort to resolve this weakness, Koehn watched a ton of film and did a lot of studying in the offseason, looking to see what different college programs do. Some of that knowledge is being incorporated into practices, but whether it results in improvement remains to be seen. 


One thing that is not a weakness for the wrestling program overall is Koehn, who appears to be universally respected among the athletes. Several noted he was the reason they got into wrestling, while Shirbroun stated unequivocally that “Joe is the best,” which ushered in universal head nods from the roundtable of wrestlers. 


But what makes Koehn such an effective coach? According to the students, he simply knows his stuff and pushes them to get better and be better. According to the girls team, he knows how to communicate and is relatable to the athletes. 


As for Koehn, answering this question was difficult, as he always attempts to focus on the wrestlers and often promotes a “team first” mentality. But he noted his ability to be positive and bring in wrestlers who want to be there. He also does this by “leaving the negatives out of it.” As Koehn said, “you don’t lose, you learn.” 


“There’s a reason the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield. You got to see what’s in front of you and keep moving forward,” he added. 


While the girls have already had their first dual, the boys will begin the new season on Nov. 29, at South Winneshiek, starting at 6 p.m. The girls return to the mat a day earlier, in a Nov. 28 scramble at Central, also starting at 6 p.m. 

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