Gilbert senior Brooklynn Nees was exhausted. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. She started the day with a full gas tank, but by the time she’d completed her seventh match – yes, her seventh match of the day, more on that later – nearly eight hours later at the girls’ wrestling super regional in Des Moines on Friday, that tank was bone dry.

She barely had the energy to walk to the corner of the mat where she immediately collapsed into the arms of head coach Scott Auderer. She buried her head in his forearm and then slowly wilted to the ground. Eventually, she was aided off the mat and over to the cement floor near the bleachers where she sat for some time.

Nees was so close to punching her ticket to the state tournament. How close? An inch. On multiple occasions. Seriously. Twice in consolation matches, she had her opponent staring at the lights and just one more inch would have put the shoulders flat on the mat for the fall. A win in either of those matches would have clinched a state berth.

Nees’ story is why so many of us have a love-hate relationship with sports. If you believe in the seeding process, she wasn’t supposed to contend for a spot at state, but she didn’t buy into the predictions. With fire in her eyes and determination in her gut, she dove into the deep end of the pool with no fear. She won four matches on the day, all of them by fall and two that were considered significant upsets to those that had never met her and had no idea what she was capable of.

Nees’ story shouldn’t be taken for granted. Did she reach her ultimate goal? If that ultimate goal was to wrestle at state then, no, she didn’t. But if you were there on Friday and you watched what she accomplished, then you know this for a fact: she won in the game of life. And that should stay with her forever.

Our girls’ team had many similar stories throughout the tournament. So many successes that need to be told and shared.

Bronze medalist Cecelia Bowers wasn’t a top-four seed either, but she’s headed to the state tournament after winning five of six matches, her only loss coming against eventual champion and ninth-ranked Alexis Winkey of Ames in the 125-pound quarterfinals.

Fern Neubauer will join Bowers at state after she went 4-1 to place third at 155. The headlock throw should be renamed The Fern with how quickly and efficiently she pulled off the move in all four of her wins. If opponents want to leave their neck out there, Neubauer is more than happy to take them for a ride.

Neubauer’s only loss came to arguably our state’s best pound-for-pound wrestler. No. 1-ranked Skylar Slade of Southeast Polk hasn’t lost all season. She’s nationally ranked, a Super 32 champion – trust me, that’s a big deal nationally – and, oh by the way, A WORLD CHAMPION! Slade went to the U15 Pan Am Championships in Columbia recently and walked away with a gold medal.

Alex Harswick, a senior 145-pounder, reached the finals to clinch her advancement to state and she’ll be a contender for a medal later this week. Lanky and strong, it only takes seconds of watching her on the mat to realize that she just gets it. All of it.

Hadley Boshart (130 pounds), Brooke Hamers (140) and Anna Steenhoek (170) were all right there as well, in the thick of the fight. Boshart and Steenhoek wrapped up tremendous seasons in the same unenviable position as Nees, on the losing end of a wrestleback for the final spot in their brackets. Both were devastated as anyone would be, but just to scratch and claw into those positions was tremendous. When the emotional scars heal, that’s what I hope they remember.

Hamers, a junior who finished sixth, was battling more than her opponents. A nationally accomplished gymnast before she decided to give wrestling a try just a year ago, Hamers was forced to battle her own body as well. Grappling with a shoulder injury throughout the majority of the season, it would have been easy for her to give in and say she couldn’t do it. But that’s just not her way.

When it was over, and her tournament was finished, the pain was equal parts physical and emotional for Hamers as she looked to Auderer for a comforting word. She’ll be back though, she’s too good not to be. And if she can remain healthy throughout her senior season next winter, there’s no telling what she can accomplish.

Other thoughts …

  • I mentioned before that Nees was forced to wrestle seven times on Friday. That’s too much. Way too much, actually. For years, boys have not been allowed to wrestle more than five times in a single day and it’s a rule the girls need to adopt as well. If that means adding more regionals or splitting off into classes, then so be it.
  • Bowers, Boshart and Steenhoek all wrestled six matches. Again, too much. Hopefully the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union agrees moving forward.
  • All in all, I thought the IGHSAU ran a solid tournament. Was it long? Absolutely, but with 25 teams in the Super Region 4 field, that was inevitable.
  • Gilbert’s sixth-place finish in the team race should not be forgotten either. Our girls won 24 matches on the day, 17 by pin, and topped several significantly larger schools: West Des Moines Valley, Urbandale and Johnston.
  • With 13 of the 14 weights filled, the Tigers tied regional champion Southeast Polk, Ames and Raccoon River Northwest for the most wrestlers in the field. Why is that significant? Because it shows that just one year into this, Auderer is building an incredibly solid program. And his current crop of grapplers should be remembered for what they started.
  • The state pairings were released Sunday afternoon and here’s who our three qualifiers drew for first-round opponents:

–125 Pounds: Cecelia Bowers (20-13) vs. No. 2-ranked Tatum Shepherd (44-2), Ridge View.

–145 Pounds: Alex Harswick (26-4) vs. Kallie Gibbons (28-10), Mason City.

–155 Pounds: Fern Neubauer (18-8) vs. No. 5-ranked Lauren Nicholas (34-8), Cedar Falls.

  • The first-ever IGHSAU girls’ state wrestling tournament will be held Thursday and Friday at Xtream Arena in Coralville. The opening round will get started at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Good luck to our three qualifiers!