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Van Meter wrestling takes two in return to the mats

Andrew Brown
Dallas County News

If it feels like Van Meter/Earlham wrestling has been absent from the athletic scene, that's because they have been. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Bulldog wrestling team was sidelines for the past 11 days but on Tuesday, Jan. 12, they arrived back on the mats once more in a home quadrangular. 

Van Meter/Earlham welcomed in non-conference foes North Polk, Nodaway Valley and Saydel, and despite not having their full roster, they went 2-1 on the night. The Bulldogs captured wins over Nodaway Valley (38-24) and Saydel (43-18) while falling in their battle with North Polk (51-33).

"We were looking at guys' descent plans and realized we hadn't had a weigh-in since Dec. 19," began head coach Chas Funaro. "That's a really long layoff from competition and for college guys that may not be a big deal but (it is for high school wrestlers. We had to shake off some rust but it feels good to be back wrestling and back on the mats." 

Riley Harger taking on a Nodaway Valley opponent on Tuesday, Jan. 12 during a home quadrangular.

The Bulldogs accumulated 20 individual wins on the night spread out across seven pinfall wins, eight victories by forfeit, three wins by decision, one by major decision and one by medical forfeit. It was a night that showed a lot about the Bulldogs, stemming from their ability to overcome one of many big hurdles after coming back from the 10-day absence. 

"The biggest challenge for us is getting back to where we were mentally before the break," said Funaro. "I feel like were were in a really good place with laser focus and ready to take on the road. Mentally we've got to rebuild quick what took us a week to build in the first place. We've come down because of COVID-19, now we've got to get back up again." 

In their first battle of the night, the Bulldogs took on North Polk and ended up coming just short of a victory. Van Meter/Earlham totaled five victories for the match, four of which came by way of pinfall. One of those victories came from 132-pound wrestler Tristan Drake (1:42). It was the beginning of an unblemished night for Drake who was one of two Bulldogs to go 3-0 on the night and one of three to go undefeated. Joining Drake in pinfall victories was Riley Harger (120, 2:54) picking up his 19th win of the 2020-21 campaign, brother Mason Drake (126) winning in 3:26 and Trey Bond who picked up his lone pinfall victory of the night. 

Tristan Drake with a takedown on Tuesday, Jan. 12 in a home quadrangular.

Following just their fourth dual meet loss of the season, Van Meter/Earlham set their sights on Nodaway Valley and picked up their first of two wins on the night. Of the seven victories for the contest, three came via forfeit while two came from pinfall, one from decision and also included a medical forfeit. One of the victories by forfeit came from Max Gilliland (285), who picked up his first of two victories for the night. It was also Gilliland's first appearance on the competitive mats this season following a leg injury that sidelined him up until Tuesday's action. 

"Especially at that weight class where you're doing a lot of pushing and pulling and using that leverage, you need to use your legs a lot," began Funaro. "Overall I liked what I saw out of him, I was really pleased with him. It's tough when you miss time at the beginning of the season when you're working on a lot of techniques and he's missed out on that. He is however, a very athletic guy and he'll catch up." 

For the non-forfeit victories, Nic Swalla at (170) won by medical forfeit for his 12th victory of the season while Jackson Boese (145) and Tristan Drake picked up the two pinfall victories for the match. Riley Harger picked up his fourth decision victory of the season by an 8-6 mark to wrap up the victories against the Wolverines. 

Brock Button attempts to take down his opponent during a home quadrangular on Tuesday, Jan. 12 in Van Meter.

The final match of the night held the most team points for the Bulldogs as they bested Saydel by a 43-18 mark. Eight individual victories made up the team win against the Eagles with five of those coming by way of forfeit. Three wins came by other means including Trey Bond picking up his seventh win of the season as he struck a major decision by a 9-0 final. Gilliland picked up his first pinfall victory of the season (1:30) while Mason Drake picked up his sixth decision victory of the season, 7-1. With Mason Drake's victory, it marked the second time across the night where both he and brother Tristan Drake claimed victory in the same match.

It also highlights another strength for the Bulldogs that has become fairly regular in recent seasons. Tristan and Mason Drake marks the second brother pair this year alone on Van Meter/Earlham's roster along with Payton and Riley Harger. Both Drake brothers performed well off of the break with a lot of excitement to boot. 

"It's been pretty cool over the last couple of seasons where we've had the Swalla brothers, the Harger brothers and of course the Drake brothers," said Funaro. "I had a high school coach that told me that if you want to have a good wrestling team, have brothers. Nobody puts as much time into their work on the mats than the Drake brothers and the Harger brothers. May, July, August, it doesn't matter, you'll see those four guys in the wrestling room and doing all they can to get better. That's what you love to see as a coach." 

Following their 2-1 mark on the night, the Bulldogs will now be looking to their next battle which will come on Saturday, Jan. 16. in a multi-team invitational in Perry beginning at 9:30 a.m. 

Van Meter/Earlham head wrestling coach Chas Funaro looks on as his team takes on their first competition in ten days with a Tuesday, Jan. 12 home quadrangular.