The big day finally arrived and five Van Meter/Earlham wrestling stars took on the 2019-20 state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Thursday, Feb. 20.

It was a challenging day that yielded both happiness and heartbreak for the Bulldogs. Derrin Sesker (285-pounds) and Caleb Swalla (170-pounds) were the two Bulldogs to capture victory in their tournament-opening matches. Riley Harger (120-pounds) fell in a surprise pinfall defeat to start the day but then made up for it by picking up the win in consolation action to ensure a round two appearance. The two Bulldogs who unfortunately saw their tournament runs come to an end were seniors Tyler Haynes (145-pounds) and Bryce Cole (152-pounds).

Riley Harger (120-pounds)

It was a rather odd situation for Harger who actually started things off extremely well. A takedown and a nearfall gave the junior a 4-2 lead within the first period. Then, in a rare turn of events, Harger found himself out of balance and suffered a pinfall defeat. Harger avenged his fifth loss of the season by picking up a 6-1 decision in the following consolation opener. A quick 2-0 lead held for the better part of the entire match before rattling off four points in the third period to cushion the lead for the eventual win.

“It felt great to get that win,” said Harger. “I knew I had to keep the pressure on him and force him into a bad mistake.”

Harger will now grace the second round of the Class 2A state tournament Friday, Feb. 21.

Tyler Haynes (145-pounds)

Even with a pair of strong performances, it wasn’t the best day for Bulldog senior Tyler Haynes. The senior came into the tournament as the 11th seeded wrestler in the bracket with 36 wins under his belt. His first match was up against OA-BCIG’s Jake Nieman, sixth-ranked in the latest 145-pound Class 2A polls. Haynes did battle tough through the match despite the 16-7 final mark. The senior brought a 6-2 deficit down to a 6-5 mark and cut down the lead once more down just 8-7 following the second period. Unfortunately, the third period wasn’t too kind to Haynes who saw eight match points go unanswered in the loss.

Haynes then battled it out in the consolation bracket with Jadyn Peyton of West Delaware. Haynes drew the first shot up 2-0 early before falling behind 3-2 following the first period. Haynes captured the lead again in period two (4-3) but a fall late (4:50) ended up ending his tournament run early. Haynes ends his farewell season with a record of 36-12.

Bryce Cole (152-pounds)

It was a tough slate right from the get-go for Cole. The senior drew the top-seeded and undefeated Will Esmoli of West Liberty and even though he drew the match well into the second period, fell just short via pinfall. Cole’s path then matched him up against Bret Hoyman of Emmetsburg where his path ended after faltering by a 6-3 decision. Cole posted one point in each of the three periods but just couldn’t capture enough points for the win. Cole will officially conclude his senior season with a mark of 31-14.

Caleb Swalla (170-pounds)

Despite coming in as the only undefeated wrestler in his bracket, third-ranked Swalla was seeded sixth in the initial pairings. The seeding, while not big in the long run, gave the senior a little motivation heading into the match.

“It did give me motivation because I thought I should have been much higher,” started Swalla. “In the end, I felt I did just enough and did a good job keeping him off balance.”

In the end, though, Swalla did find a way to advance into the winners bracket. His opponent was tenth-ranked Carter Bendorf of Harlan and the victory came by the thinnest of margins, a 1-0 decision. That lone point came via an escape in the second period which ultimately became the deciding factor in the win. Now Swalla is looking on to his quarterfinal match which will be against Jared Voss of West Delaware.

Derrin Sesker (285-pounds)

Entering as the fourth-seeded wrestler in the bracket, Sesker started his day up against Brayden Hartman of Washington. The battle was quite lengthy and took until just a matter of seconds left in the third period before Sesker captured the pinfall win (5:24). Sesker was already in pursuit of a win up 4-0 once the pinfall took place. Sesker will now enter the quarterfinal round where he will battle it out with Central Lyon’s Jarrett Meyer which will take place Friday, Feb. 21.