MT. PLEASANT — If you build it, they will come. That’s the hope for head coach Shawn Contos and the Iowa Wesleyan men’s wrestling program, and the team is building from the ground up, using familiar faces from around Southeast Iowa.
Coach Contos sat alongside four new IW wrestlers on Monday morning, all locals. Among the group were former Mt. Pleasant wrestler James DeMeyer, former Fairfield wrestler Brendon Lunsford, former Mediapolis wrestler Keegan Akers and former New London wrestler Javis Krieger. That quartet will be the early foundation for a program that will get its official start this winter.
“This is the heartbeat of our program,” Contos said. “For recruiting, this is our hot zone. We definitely want to stay in this area to get as many kids as we can.”
Lunsford went to Hannibal-LaGrange University to wrestle after graduating from Fairfield in 2018, making him the only one of the four with previous collegiate experience. He will be transferring to IW in the fall.
“It’s nice coming to a new program where I can help start a program in Southeast Iowa,” Lunsford said. “There isn’t a whole lot of wrestling in Southeast Iowa right now. This program is opening up, so it’s kind of cool to see.”
DeMeyer and Krieger both took time off from wrestling after graduating high school. DeMeyer graduated from Mt. Pleasant in 2019 and had shoulder surgery. He has just been cleared to workout again.
“To be honest, after districts senior year, I thought I was done,” said DeMeyer. “When they released the program ... I had a long talk with my parents, and I decided it was in my best interest to move back home, come home and wrestle again.”
Krieger graduated in 2018 from New London. He says he always knew he wanted to wrestle again, but wasn’t sure where he would wind up. He says when he heard IW was going to start up a new program, he felt like everything was falling in place.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Krieger said. “It’s going to open up a lot of doors for a lot of kids.”
Like Krieger, Akers is coming from a power wrestling school. Akers is the only one of the four coming straight out of high school, having just graduated from Mediapolis. He says his time wrestling for Coach Jason Payne and the rest of the Mediapolis staff has helped prepare him to jump into wrestling at the next level.
“The coach I had always preached that we should be going 100 percent all the time,” Akers said. “It doesn’t matter if it is practice or schoolwork, especially in important matches. He wanted us to go 100 percent, and I think that helped me get mentally prepared for the next level.”
As long as COVID-19 cooperates and fans are allowed at IW wrestling events this winter, local wrestling fans will be able to flock Olan G. Ruble Arena to watch the new Tigers in action when winter sports roll back around.
“We can do big things here, and we’re going to,” Coach Contos said. “These guys are the bedrock of that. They’re the initial commitments we have, to show them that true success is possible here, and it’s not just us blowing smoke or using tagines.”