DES MOINES - The more pressure the better for Ballard’s Skyler Noftsger at the state wrestling tournament this week at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
After a subpar performance in the opening round, and then needing to go to sudden victory in the quarterfinals, Noftsger wasn’t looking in top form at state. But in the semifinals on Friday night, the Ballard senior found his groove and he didn’t let up before earning a state championship with an 8-3 win over Red Oak’s Justin McCunn Saturday in the Class 2A finals at 160 pounds.
“Came up short sophomore year, got hurt junior year and came up short again,” Noftsger said. “It feels amazing to finally be there. It’s a childhood dream.”
Bondurant-Farrar’s Neal Larsen and Camanche’s Baylor Crigger took Noftsger out of his element in the first two rounds. But the top-ranked 160-pounder in 2A still handled Larsen by a 9-3 score on Thursday and pulled off a 4-2 triumph over Crigger in the quarterfinals on Friday.
In Friday night’s semifinals Noftsger, ranked No. 1, faced off against No. 2 Wes Cummings of Prairie City-Monroe. Noftsger was able to wrestle on his feet more, which is his biggest strength.
The end result was a 10-7 victory that gave him some needed momentum heading into the finals.
“I just kept wrestling outside and shot my doubles,” Noftsger said. “Got to him every time, drove through him and scored more points.”
In the finals, Noftsger wasted little time carrying over the momentum from the semifinals, He scored a takedown on McCunn in the first 10 seconds.
By the end of the second period, Noftsger was up 6-2. He added another takedown in the third period.
Noftsger got a little scare later in the period when he hurt his knee. But nothing was going to stop him from winning his first state title.
“I had it tucked underneath and it popped,” Noftsger said. “It hurts pretty bad right now, but I pushed through it. There’s so much adrenaline in the state finals.”
After the match, Noftsger immediately jumped into the arms of both his father Drake, a Ballard assistant, and Bomber head wrestling coach Steve Mickelson.
“They just guided through my whole high school career,” Noftsger said. “Steve’s guided me in freestyle and my dad’s guided me since I was little. Those are the first people you go to — those are the people that got me there.”
Noftsger ended his senior season at 39-1. He went 153-25 for his career, qualifying for state all four years and placing second as a sophomore and fourth as a junior.
“He’s put in a ton of time and a ton of effort and battled through some things to get there,” Mickelson said. “I’m just excited for him to go out this way as a senior. The excitement on his face when he came over and gave me a hug afterwards was special.”
Gage Long also earned a spot on the podium for Ballard. He placed eighth at 132 pounds as a sophomore.
“That feels pretty good,” Long said. “First state tournament and ended up getting on the stand.”
Long lost by technical fall to eventual finalist Jack Gaukel of Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the first round. He defeated Okoboji’s Hunter Abrahamson by major decision, 13-2, in the consolation first round and rallied for a 10-7 win over Decorah’s Jackson Rolfs in the consolation second round.
The win over Rolfs was a thriller. Long trailed 7-5 late, but in the final seconds he got a takedown and a three-point near-fall to pull off the amazing comeback.
“We ended up getting in a stalemate and I looked at the clock — 10 seconds — and I looked at Steve and he said you’ve gotta throw something,” Long said. “Mentally in my head I was just getting ready to throw and I go back out there and throw a head lock and put him right to his back to get five and take the lead, and just sit there for the rest of the period.”
The win over Rolfs, who is ranked seventh, was the first over a ranked opponent for Long.
In the consolation third round, Long lost by technical fall to Solon’s Zeb Gnida. On Saturday he lost by fall to Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Remington Hanson in the seventh-place match to finish his sophomore season at 38-15.
“Gage had a good tournament,” Mickelson said. “He beat a quality kid from Decorah to make sure he got on the stand. He had a couple of tough bouts, but he’s still a sophomore and has room to grow. Clean up some of the mistakes and he’s gonna be tougher than heck to compete with.”
Joe Hofbauer also competed at state for Ballard. Hofbauer lost by fall to Central Lyon’s Kolton Bus, then was pinned by Humboldt’s Joel Osborn late in the third period of their consolation first-round match at 195.
Hofbauer went 26-5 in his senior year. He was only 36-34 prior to this season.
“I think he was surprised by the season that he had this year,” Mickelson said. “I’m proud of him for that.”
Ballard ended up tying Hampton-Dumont and Washington for 28th in the final 2A team standings with 26 points. West Delaware won the 2A team title with 76.5 points.