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Who is Iowa HS Wrestling GOAT?! The Case For Greg Randall, Mount Vernon (1979-1982)

When looking at the history of 4-time state champions, it’s interesting to see the impact on the next group of wrestlers. For instance, when Jeff Kerber of Emmetsburg won his 4th title on February 24, 1979… it was the same night that Greg Randall won his 1st state title and he witnessed the sell-out crowd pay reverence and homage to that achievement with 2 rousing standing ovations.

“I thought it was the coolest thing when I witnessed that… I thought to myself, I’m going to get one of those,” Randall said to himself that night.

That was like the passing of the torch, a defining moment in one’s own mind visualizing that experience, much like a baton exchange from one athlete to another in a race. History says it was not a unique experience. As a matter of fact, it’s happened numerous times in the past to future 4-timer’s.

When Randall experienced his triumph and the ovation that followed for winning his 4th straight state championship in 1982, it was Mark Schwab of Osage watching the standing ‘O’ moment for Randall after having won his own first title. When Dan Knight of Clinton won his 4th title in 1987, it was Shane Light of Lisbon that was watching the standing ovations paid to Knight after Light had won his own first title.

In 1990 when Light finished his achievement of winning his 4th individual gold medal, it was a young and talented Jeff McGinnes of Iowa City High that watched history unfold after claiming his very 1st state title as Light was closing out his 4x HS career. When McGinnes won his 4th straight title 1993, it was Eric Juergens of Maquoketa that was watching on after winning his own first title that night and would later go on to receive his wrestling fan appreciation with those long standing ovations at both the raising of his arm at center mat and at the podium in 1996.

T.J. Sebolt of Centerville got a double bonus dose of that imagery and majesty in 2003 when he won his first title and then watched Mack Reiter of Don Bosco of Gilbertville and C. J. Ettelson of Hudson win their 4th straight state championships. It was the first time there were multiple 4-timer’s winning on the same night. The night Sebolt captured his 4th straight title in 2006, it was Mack’s brother Bart Reiter that was watching on after having won his own first state title.

* Interestingly enough, Randall’s sister had a son who graduated in that 2003 grade. His name was Nick Beuter and he wrestled for Cedar Falls. He was CJ and Charlie Ettelson’s longtime club practice partner and was closer than people realize to winning 4 himself as CJ did, placing 2-2-4-1 in high school. Randall was surely influential to Nick and likely to the Ettelson brothers as well!

Going back to that original “coolest moment”, Greg Randall followed through on his treasured thoughts and won his fourth state title in 1982, becoming the 5th member of the “Quad-Squad,” the elite group of 4-Time Iowa wrestling state champions. At the time, it was the fourth year in a row that a wrestler won his fourth state title. Randall was a trend-setter in high school, becoming famous for the now-popular takedown, release, takedown, release, wrestling style.

It was actually his Coach Tim Johnson who came up with that game plan in Randall’s 1979 semi-finals match at 2A 98 lbs against Waukon’s Keith Colsch as a way to avoid his dangerous cradle. Johnson suggested that Randall stay on his feet and use takedowns, cutting Colsch loose and getting more takedowns. It turned out to be a pretty good strategy as Randall won 25-5 and became a finalist for that Saturday night’s IA State Wrestling Tournament finals on IPTV (where Randall’s coach Tim Johnson would host a few years later as an analyst and wrestling commentator).

It was a match that stunned Colsch from Waukon who was top rated at that weight class and everyone else that watched. Colsch had finished 5th place the prior year, would go on to a 3rd place finish in 1979, and then continue his wrestling career at NAIA Loras College (Iowa) with a college career record of 121-31, and was a four-time NAIA qualifier and two-time NAIA All-American, winning the 126-lb. national championship in 1983 and placing 5th in 1984. So yeah, it was a shocker… to everyone but Randall and Johnson!

Mount Vernon’s coach Tim Johnson, who was a Morning Sun alum and protégé as a wrestler under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Bob Darrah, noted that there wasn’t video back then to watch but they had some scouting info and knew what opponents various strengths and weaknesses were. Because of Randall’s coach-ability and talent, he was able to follow through on every facet of that “game plan.”

In the finals match, the team of Johnson and Randall stuck with the same plan against a tough opponent, John Thorn of Algona, who was also known for his cradle and talent on top, and Randall pulled out a wild 13-11 victory to capture his first state title and finishing his freshman season with a 29-2-2 record.

Randall didn’t exactly come into that state tournament on a roll though… He just came off a rough district finals match where he got pinned by Solon’s Jay Votroubek, a senior who ended up placing 5th in 1979’s state tournament. Tim Johnson recalled that “Greg got caught a couple of times as a freshman because he was small, and because Votrobek was a senior. When you’re a senior 98-pounder you’re a different animal.”

“My coach, Tim Johnson, was good at scouting and when I met someone who was good on the mat he would tell me to do that,” recalls Randall. “My strength was wrestling from my feet so we took advantage of it.”

Randall followed up his freshman 1979 state title by winning his first Junior Nationals freestyle title at 105.5 pounds… Not too shabby!

In 1980 it was a repeat of the 98 lbs. finals combatants from the year before with another matchup against Algona’s John Thorn. This time bumped up two weight classes to the 112 lbs. class… the senior from Algona proved to be a ‘thorn’ (pun intended) in Randall’s side earlier in the year by giving Randall his only loss of the season, a 4-2 decision at the Hudson Invitational finals. It would be the last time Randall would lose in high school as Randall got his revenge in the Class 2A 112 lbs. state finals match with a convincing 5-3 victory to seize his second straight state championship, closing out his sophomore season with a 33-1 record.

Randall’s junior season saw him impose his will on the competition by capping off the 1981 wrestling season by winning a state title at the 2A 126 lbs weight class, notching a 4-3 decision over junior Erik Strawn of CR Jefferson and finishing things out with his first undefeated season at 33-0. The runner up Strawn, would go on to capture a state title of his own at this weight class the next year finishing (31-0) and his career with a 109-13-1 record.

Randall also had a tough semi-finals match that year with senior Mike Schimp of Belmond, a state champion himself in 1978. Randall won that match 10-4 to advance to the finals.

The late sports writer Dan McCool tracked Schimp down after their matchup and wrote about it in his classic book ‘Reach For The Stars’, where Schimp remembers Randall as being ‘slick’… “He was slick. If I had to say one word about Greg Randall, he was slick. He was great on his feet. I’m not saying he was the most overpowering wrestler, he was just slick, his technique was awesome. Probably one of the best technicians I ever wrestled. He had an outside kelly, I felt it coming but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t plant, I couldn’t post, I couldn’t sprawl. I think he took me down with it two or three times. It amazed me.”

For Greg Randall’s senior year wrestling campaign, he remained undefeated at 28-0 and was crowned the 1982 state champion at 2A 132 lbs. after a 21-5 beating of junior Doug Stumberg of Grundy Center (a 4th place finisher at 119 in 1981), and then took center stage to be recognized with that double bonus ovation he had dreamed about and watched in awe and amazement 4 years earlier… all of it poured out from an excited and appreciative crowd of wrestling fans throughout the entire state of Iowa that was in attendance. Strumberg would go on to become a state champion at 2A 145 lbs the next year, capping off his career as 3x place winner and 2x finalist.

So what advice does a coach give his wrestler just prior to taking the mat to make an assault on the record books? Coach Tim Johnson was quoted by the Des Moines Register, as telling Randall – “I just told him to go out and make history!” and with his technical talent and coach-ability level measuring off the scale, Randall stayed in character and brought home that 4th gold medal and made his own history!

Following his 1982 state championship and capturing that 4th consecutive title, Randall went on to win his second Junior Nationals freestyle title at 132 pounds.

Obviously, with the notoriety that comes with the mat success that Greg Randall achieved in high school you would expect a ton of college recruitment, and Randall did get his fair share of colleges knocking at his door. One of the interesting stories about Greg Randall was his recruitment to Iowa and the challenges that lay ahead of him. There was a loaded weight class where Randall was going come in at, and at that level it was more about staying healthy, being mentally strong and maintaining confidence throughout all of those practice room beat downs that were to come while learning to improve.

Randall remembers Iowa Hawkeye’s Coach Dan Gable telling him “that the program didn’t really need me”… to which Randall responded internally to that challenge by not only making the team, but going on to becoming a three time all-American and two time NCAA finalist for the Iowa Hawkeye’s, placing 2nd as the NCAA runner-up at 134 pounds in 1984 and 1986, while also placing fifth as a junior. He compiled a 109-26-3 career record while at Iowa.

Randall also competed at the international level in 1989, capturing the gold medal at the Pan American games. He was also a runner-up at the U.S. Open Nationals, and placed second at the 1989 U.S. Olympic Festival.

Greg Randall was inducted into the Iowa Wrestling HOF in 2008 along with Mark Schwab, Scott Morningstar, and Kevin Evans.

So what does Greg Randall attribute his success to?

Randall credits his parents for the success he enjoyed as he recalled starting wrestling in second grade at a Mt. Vernon club tournament. “My dad taught me to give it 110% all the time. That was the way I was brought up. He would take me to tournaments no matter where and he told me to have fun and give 110%… and Mom was the one who did the driving.”

One of those earlier little kid matches also helped shape the character of Randall. “I was eight years old and had to wrestle a kid from Cedar Rapids who was a year older. I was nervous but I pinned him. He jumped up after the fall and gave me a hug and said ‘great job.’ He showed me sportsmanship is number one and to handle losing just like winning.”

Randall recalls feeling the pressure of being the fifth wrestler in the state’s history to win four state titles. “I used the pressure to my advantage. I thrived on pressure… the more pressure the harder I worked,” he said.

There is a lot to take note of in the high school wrestling career of Greg Randall, not just the on mat success.

The things that stick out to me are the love that he had for the sport of wrestling, even at a young age and his maturity in his view of sportsmanship. He looked at obstacles in his path as merely objects that needed overcome instead of personal attacks. He was a very technical wrestler, an absolute beast on his feet, and was very mat smart… and as his coach Tim Johnson noted, his coach-ability was off the charts.

So what is the legacy of Greg Randall of Mount Vernon as it pertains to Iowa’s High School Wrestling GOAT?

There is so much to like and appreciate and so little to criticize but for the valid but slightly petty arguments regarding what weight classes he started his high school career… On the road to winning those 4 state titles, he had to beat 3 former or future state champions so his path to that pinnacle was no picnic!

Randall deserves consideration and demonstrated at the top level – the best of Iowa wrestling competitiveness and sportsmanship, along with showcasing a stellar resume that began as a 98 pound freshman to an international competitor to 24 years as a D1 college coach. His career reflects all the necessary attributes one would expect of the GOAT at one of the most exciting periods in Iowa wrestling history. He checks a lot of those “boxes” that matter in this GOAT conversation. He had a phenomenal HS career and was one of the most exciting wrestlers to watch in person, and literally changed how many wrestlers and coaches approached attacking great mat wrestlers if you were great or had a kid that was great on their feet. It became a very potent weapon and strategy.

The thing is… I don’t have to choose, I just present the facts and let you experts decide!

Greg Randall interview from “Wrestling with Iowa”

 

Here is Greg Randall of Mount Vernon’s Iowa State Wrestling Tournament results…

1979:

98 lbs

  1. Greg Randall, Fr., Mount Vernon
  2. John Thorn, Jr., Algona
  3. Keith Colsch, Jr., Waukon
  4. Bob Deskin, So., Carlisle
  5. Jay Votroubek, Sr., Solon
  6. Terry Cooper, So., Creston

1980:

112 lbs

  1. Greg Randall, So., Mount Vernon
  2. John Thorn, Sr., Algona
  3. John Thompson, Jr., Decorah
  4. Lee Weston, Sr., Griswold
  5. Todd Staats, Sr., Wapello
  6. Curt Stumberg, Jr., Grundy Center

1981:

126 lbs

  1. Greg Randall, Jr., Mount Vernon
  2. Erik Strawn, Jr., Jefferson
  3. Mike Schimp, Sr., Belmond
  4. Larry Vorwald, Sr., Monona-MFL
  5. Rusty Horn, Jr., Independence
  6. Jeff Brown, Jr., Centerville

1982:

132 lbs

  1. Greg Randall, Sr., Mount Vernon
  2. Doug Stumberg, Jr., Grundy Center
  3. Curt Mills, Denver
  4. Paul Van Oosbree, Sr., Emmetsburg
  5. Kurt Shedenheim, Jr., Belle Plaine
  6. 6. John Lockard, Sr., Johnston
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