At the state tournament during the placing rounds in 2000, I was sitting in the stands with my brother, Justin and best friend, Aaron Drain watching. Aaron and I were more or less zombies that day due to having kind of a tiring day/night before and Justin was in a zone, for it was his Freshman year and he had to wrestle in the finals that evening. He spent most of that day in “Discman-World” and not really saying much. During that session, Justin broke what seemed to be an hour long streak of silence when he nudged me and said, “hey Joshua, who is that guy right there?” He pointed out someone wrestling on the mat in front of us and before I asked him which guy he was referring to, I immediately knew that he was referring to the guy with the red/blue singlet, for he was just letting loose and a pretty fun match was unraveling because of it. I didn’t know who he was, which wasn’t usual for me. Another thing that was unusual was the fact that it was Justin who pointed this kid out, for normally he didn’t pay much attention to some of the other guys out there that he didn’t know. When I told him I didn’t know, he was like, “haha, YOU don’t know. That’s weird. Can you look it up?” Over the years, my teammates/family had kind of become dependent on me as some sort of walking, talking wrestling “reference guide.” I looked it up and it was a guy named Andre Vander Velde from Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, which is located on the opposite side of the state as us. This was right at the beginning of Council Bluffs Lewis Central’s reign of dominance, so it was impressive to me that even the other schools in the Council Bluffs area were generating talented, dominant and fun wrestlers to watch. That region has had phases where it’s been a wrestling hotbed in Iowa. When I told Justin his name, his response was, “Andre… that should be easy for me to remember,” which was a reference to who had become one of his biggest rivals from our area at the time, Andre Avila, from Davenport Assumption. “This guy is really talented,” he said before tuning everyone back out again and putting his headphones back on. I couldn’t have agreed more.
From that point on, I always took notice when Vander Velde took the mat. It seemed like one thing always seemed certain in his matches… he always seemed to put a lot of points on the board. When I was at Loras College, I saw Andre at a few tournaments, for it seemed like we ran into Augustana at quite a few tournaments. He was still able to put a ton of points on the board at the college level as well as the HS level, for every time I saw him, that was precisely what happened. A really, really good wrestler.
I also want to note that when I did the 3A rankings, Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln people always treated me with the utmost respect…and that goes for the other CB schools as well. I don’t know if I’ve ever had one interaction with a Council Bluffs person that wasn’t a positive one. With that said, I was glad to see Andre subscribe to our YouTube channel, so I could contact him about doing one of these, for I am happy to put this one together!
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
I started wrestling for the Council Bluffs Panthers Youth Club in 3rd grade. I wrestled one year on the freshman team and 3 years varsity at Abraham Lincoln High School in C.B. and then wrestled varsity for four years at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD.
What year did you graduate?
I graduated high school in 2002 and college in 2006.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My Mom was the one who encouraged me to try wrestling. She took me to a dual to watch my cousins wrestle in Rock Valley, Iowa and then every year we’d watch the Iowa High School State finals. It was always a dream to make it on that podium some day.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My cousins wrestled at Rock Valley. My cousin Matt Vander Velde went on to wrestle at Northwestern College around 1993-1996. My brother Adam Mohr wrestled with me at ALHS and went on to wrestle at Northwestern College as well, from 2002-2005.
It was very tempting to follow in their footsteps and wrestle for Northwestern, but Augie Wrestling turned out to be where I was meant to be.
I have five kids, three of them boys and they all wrestle. Jaymeson, my oldest son, placed 6th at AAU State a year ago and just won his middle school conference tournament this season. It’s a lot of fun seeing them all grow in the sport you loved so much.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I didn’t have any big successes as a youth wrestler. I think I qualified for USA State once and AAU State once sometime in like 5th or 6th grade, but never placed.
We had a tough club growing up, so my biggest competition was in the practice room. As a kid, I was always at the same weight as one of the Paulson twins (Trent and Travis) and never started for the dual teams.
Our club dual teams had a lot of great rivalries with the Hawks Club in CB and the Westside Wrestling Club in Omaha.
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
I placed 4th in 2000 as a sophomore at 119 and placed 5th as a senior in 2002 at 130.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I think the most adverse challenges for me were mental and involved sticking with the sport. I almost quit in 6th or 7th grade because I couldn’t break the starting line up and started doubting myself.
I thought about switching to basketball, but my Mom helped me push through and I’m glad she did because it led to some of the greatest moments of my life.
I’d say the same thing happened when I got to college. I was really kind of a dark horse and wasn’t expected to do much. There were so many state champs from South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa (maybe not as many champs from Iowa but we also joked that placing in Iowa would have been a State Championship anywhere else). I remember thinking I would be lucky just to earn a varsity spot on that roster. Somehow a spot was open at 133 my freshman year and I jumped in and qualified for nationals my very first year. I was hooked then and saw that I could compete at higher level and just kept trying to get better each year.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
My style was usually pretty high paced. I liked to try and push the pace on my feet. I’d consider myself a technical wrestler but also a bit unorthodox. I was definitely one of those guys who wasn’t afraid to use some funk. And I was known for making some crazy come backs and pulling off some wild wins.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
I didn’t go back and forth with too many guys in high school. I think the only one would have been Dave Pogge from Gross High my sophomore year. I lost to him in a dual earlier that year but ended up winning our last meeting at the River City Conference tournament.
Who was your most influential coach?
Both Clark Allen (ALHS) and Jason Reitmeier (Augustana) were extremely influential coaches for me.
Coach Allen taught me a lot about being tough and fearless as a competitor. He was a big tough cowboy himself, but he also had a lot of compassion for me as a wrestler and my life beyond wrestling.
Coach Reitmeier was a technician and helped me refine my skills. He was a fierce competitor and gave me the drive to compete at my highest level. He was also an amazing guy and was there for me during some of my tough years in college.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
My high school team was really competitive my sophomore year. Four of us qualified for state and ended up placing 4th as a team.
My college team was very competitive. We won the conference tournament my junior year and placed 2nd at the NCAA National Tournament.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I looked up to David Kjeldgaard from Lewis Central. We used to get out of youth practice early sometimes to watch their duals. They wrestled under that spotlight and the atmosphere was always electric. He was a great wrestler, fun to watch and was a class act too.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Roman Bravo Young is probably my favorite right now. He goes big every time he steps on the mat and I think his style is great for the future of the sport.
Also like watching Spencer Lee, Bo Nickal and Jordan Burroughs.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
Outkast, Pearl Jam and RHCP in high school
Linkin Park and Eminem in college. “Til I Collapse” still gets me fired up
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
There were a few losses that crushed me. The first was losing to Brad Stockton from Iowa City West in the State semifinals my senior year. Brad was tough and the better wrestler that year for sure, but that match was my last hope of achieving my dream of winning a state championship and I took it pretty hard.
Same thing in 2005, when I lost my NCAA semifinals match to Eli Dominguez from UNO. Our matches were high scoring and usually pretty close. I beat him once earlier that year but losing in the semis again and losing a shot at a NCAA Division II title was also a tough one to take.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I probably would have started wrestling Freestyle and Greco at a younger age. I only did it one year with Coach Massey and the Golden Eagles after my senior year of high school and I loved it and learned a lot. There wasn’t as much pressure and it was great teaming up to wrestle with other guys from Southwest Iowa, kind of like our youth days. And then wrestling for Team Iowa at Fargo was the ultimate experience. I’ll never forget that training camp and training alongside the best of the best from Iowa.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
My favorite wrestling memory was winning my 100th win at Vets Auditorium my senior. I had lost two matches in a row and was feeling down. I remember my Mom pulled me to the side, we said a prayer and then talked about how this was it, had to leave it all on the mat. A lot of guys had Dad’s that had wrestled before and were their biggest influences. I had my Mom. We jumped in and figured the sport out together from the very beginning. She was a huge part of my success and even though she never physically stepped on a mat, she was there with me every time I went out there. That last match, I wrestled like I never had before and finished in 5th place with exactly 100 career wins.
My best wrestling accomplishment was becoming an All-American in front of my hometown crowd in Omaha for the NCAA DII Nationals in 2005 and being a part of that national runner up team. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
It’s still hard to believe I went from a kid who couldn’t crack the starting line up to being a 4x National Qualifier and All-American.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Ben Moss and Chad Davis from Lewis Central were my biggest competitors in high school. I was at the same weight with Davis my sophomore and junior year. In 2001, he got upset by Patrick Allibone from Sioux City Heelan in our district finals and so I got to wrestle him one last time for true second, but never did end up beating him.
We are actually pretty close now, he married my wife’s best friend and so our kids hang out a lot and funny enough now wrestle each other in youth tourneys.
My biggest competition in college were guys like Eli Dominguez and Mitch Waite from UNO, Adam Keiswetter and Jeff Rutledge from UNK.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
It was seasonal for me. Only wrestled Freestyle/Greco one summer.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I am definitely a little biased to my generation, but I think the Southwest Iowa guys for my generation would have stacked up pretty well against today’s generation. It was a special era then. In 2000, the Lewis Central Dynasty began, Underwood won the 1A championship and Abraham Lincoln placed 4th at State, the highest ever in school history.
It’s a slightly similar story for the guys from my days at Augie. There are a lot of tough wrestlers today but there is still a running debate about which Augustana team was the greatest out of our 2005 Runner-Up team and the 2010 Runner-Up team. (They actually stirred up this debate again for some quarantine/COVID-19 entertainment and had a Twitter tournament for people to vote for the ultimate Viking. The guys from my day faired pretty well.) You can check out Twitter for bracket results, haha.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Yes, at Augustana College
What other sports did you play?
Football and Track
What are your favorite sports teams?
I try to keep up with the Steelers and ISU and Iowa football.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Music, Reading, Biking
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
It’s been a great experience giving back to the sport. I’ve recently had the opportunity to start helping with the Lynx CBAL wrestling program again and it’s been a great experience being back with my alma mater and seeing the potential for the future of AL wrestling. So many people poured into me and helped shaped me and I love passing on whatever I can and helping kids fall in love with this sport.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It’s taught me a lot about hard work and perseverance. Wrestling gave me the “You’re not going to work harder than me” attitude and an understanding that it’s not over until it’s over. You keep fighting until the end and never quit.
What do you do now?
I’m married to my high school sweetheart, we have five kids and I am a Worship Pastor at Dream City Church in Omaha, NE.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Yes, I help out with COBRA/SWIFT youth program in Council Bluffs. Love working with the Manz family.
I am also an Assistant Coach at Kirn Middle School
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Get your priorities straight as soon as you can: faith, family, school, wrestling. Don’t get too hung up on early success. Never stop being a student of the sport. And if you put in the work and never give up you’ll go far in life on and off the mat.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
It’s very tempting, but probably not haha I’m just trying to stay in good enough shape to keep up with my boys.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Big shout out to Augie wrestling, the CB Lynx Wrestling teams and families and the entire Southwest Iowa wrestling community. It’s an honor being a part of such a great wrestling tradition.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Some fun trivia about me is I play in a funk rock band here in the Omaha area called Jaguar James. We released an EP last summer were nominated for an Omaha Entertainment Arts Award. So if you’re ever in the mood for some Jimi Hendrix/Prince type music, check us out ✌🏾