It was a tough district field in Knoxville for eight Van Meter/Earlham wrestlers. Although eight came in and fought hard, five punched their respective tickets to the state tournament Feb. 20-22.


Those wrestlers include Riley Harger at 120-pounds, Tyler Haynes at 145-pounds, Bryce Cole at 152-pounds, Caleb Swalla at 170-pounds, and Derrin Sesker at 285-pounds. Swalla, Sesker, and Cole will be three Bulldogs returning to the Wells Fargo Arena in state tournament action.


Harger will make his first trip to Wells Fargo Arena after battling through a tough slate of opponents. En route to his 30th victory of the season, Harger first had to go through 28 match-winner Luke Spaur of Knoxville which he did in unblemished fashion with a 5-0 decision. Harger ran into Class 2A’s third-ranked 120-pound wrestler in Colby Lillegard of Bondurant-Farrar and fell just short in the title match but then rebounded nicely to capture runner-up status in the second-place match.


Tyler Haynes also punched in his first-ever ticket to the state tournament. The day for Haynes started with a narrow 5-4 decision over Albia’s Barrett Bonnett who came into the day with over 30 wins under his belt. That set up Haynes with a title match trip but it would come against Class 2A’s seventh-ranked Trestin Sales. It would be a close match but in the end, Haynes would suffer his tenth loss of the season by pinfall. Just like Harger, Haynes battled back to capture second place (once again over Barrett Bonnett).


Following his fifth win by decision to start the day, senior Bryce cole made his way to the title match and for the third time, this season battled against PCM’s Colby Tool, ranked fifth in the latest Class 2A 152-pound polls. It was a back-and-forth contest that ended up falling against Cole as he lost by sudden victory. Good news was still yet to come as Cole captured second place.


The first-place finishes for the Bulldogs came from both Swalla and Sesker. Swalla’s path to his third consecutive state tournament appearance began against Albia’s Gavin Shaw but Swalla picked up his 31st straight win of the season to win the match by pinfall and send the senior onto the title match. Once there, it was perhaps the easiest match of the day for Swalla who broke out to a sizable early lead to eventually capture his fourth technical fall win of the season to clinch his spot at Wells Fargo Arena.


For Sesker, Class 2A’s fourth-ranked 285-pound wrestler, it seemed like destiny that he would once again grace the hallowed mats of the state tournament. Sesker delivered a decisive win over a tough Nicholas Wood of Chariton by 6-2 decision, the sixth such victory for the senior this season. That set up Sesker with a title match bout against PCM’s Jace Smith and with machine-like precision, took the match in 1:36 thanks to his 17th pinfall victory of the year.


All five Bulldogs will now descend upon Wells Fargo Arena beginning Thursday, Feb. 20. Class 2A will begin action at 1:30 p.m. with round one action.