Jay Bjustrom was one of the best guys in all of 2A the year he graduated in 2003 and all of Iowa, West to East knew it. In fact he could have been one of the best pound for pound guys in that grade regardless of division (1A, 2A, 3A)… And all of Iowa from the Southeast, to the Northwest to the South Central to the Northeast part of the state knew it. Actually I am being facetious with that last part… Statewide, I believe Jay was one of the most slept on and underrated wrestlers in the state. However, guys in the Northwest area of the state knew precisely just how tenacious Jay and his brothers were. I could tell by the way Northwest people would talk about him back then and it is even more noticeable now when you see the Bjustrom’s mentioned in Remember The Wrestler articles about NW area wrestlers, for they are mentioned often and always with huge praise. The Bjustrom’s were and continue to be considered top tier in NW Iowa. Jay is a legend in Algona. I had a guy from NW Iowa tell me just last year that he considered the Bjustrom brothers to be some of the best to ever step on a mat in Vets. And I don’t think you’ll find many people in NW Iowa to disagree with that. And here I am on the other side of the state in Southeast Iowa, agreeing with it as well, but the only reason I know this is because of how closely I followed him after a big win he had at the state tournament as a Junior.
While Jay was and still is a big deal in Northwest Iowa in High School, on a statewide basis he was criminally slept on when fans would discuss or research who they thought were the best wrestlers at each weight. You know how I know this? Because we were guilty of it ourselves. He was in my brother, Justin’s bracket as a Junior in 2002 and that was around the time that my brother’s infamous rivalry with Moza Fay started heating up. Moza defeated Justin at a regular season tournament that year and it prompted a lot of talk on the forums and what-not about who was going to win that 2A 125 lb. bracket that year….Moza Fay or Justin Swafford? It seemed like that was THE debate for that weight and everyone else seemed more or less disregarded. Jay Bjustrom, Ruben Chavez, Brady Dolan, etc…didn’t seem like they were mentioned much as guys who had a great shot to win it, although they SHOULD have, for they were all good enough to win it. Why is this? Well, I think it’s because Northwest Iowa wrestling can be mysterious to other wrestlers not from that region, for their wrestling media coverage generally doesn’t go around and get sent too far away from their general vicinity like say, The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, The Hawk Eye, The QC Times, etc. Northwest Iowa wrestling IS covered and from what I’ve read, it’s been done well by the Le Mars Sentinal and Sioux City Journal. Problem is, those papers don’t seem to be accessible outside of NW Iowa, especially back in 2002 when the internet wasn’t at the high level it is now.
So Moza and Justin had their first state tournament battle in which Justin took the win and went on to win state. When Moza went to the backside, the general vibe seemed to be that Moza would just bulldoze his way to 3rd without a problem, for a common opinion was that “the finals took place in the quarters between Fay and Swafford.” I watched Moza wrestle on the backside, for as heated as he and Justin’s rivalry was, the kid was still amazing and interesting to watch. In the semi-consolation round, Fay was beaten by a point or two. It happened right in front of me and it stunned a lot of the fans that were nearby. The name of the kid who beat him: Jay Bjustrom from Algona, who had just barely lost in the semifinals to Brady Dolan. After that match, it freaked us out, for if this Bjustrom kid was as good as he looked against Moza, then our finals match vs. Brady Dolan may be a little tougher than we originally thought considering he beat this Bjustrom hammer in the semis….And Bjustrom had just permanently etched his name on our radar with his huge win over Moza. That’s literally the moment where I discovered how great he was. And he went on to win big for 3rd and 4th. The bracket was a little tougher than we thought… 4 of the top 6 in that bracket won state at one point or another; Justin Swafford, Moza Fay, Dallas Kuper and Jay Bjustrom.
Bjustrom won a LOADED bracket the next year as a Senior in 2003. He was at 130 and the bracket consisted of future state champ, Adam Kurimski of Fairfield, Willie Harris of Creston who is one of the best guys I’ve ever seen who didn’t win state, Christopher Johnson from West Burlington who was my brother Justin’s longtime practice partner. Chris never won state…he always peaked in March…which is why he was a 2X Tulsa National Champion and 2X Reno World Champion in high school.
I went from knowing nothing about Bjustrom to a year later thinking he may be the most impressive wrestler in all of 2A…. Northwest Iowa…they were always so difficult to scout against or find any info about, since noone had access to a large proportion of the media outlets that covered with them. Never knew who we’d run into… And holy cow, did Jay Bjustrom ever make his presence known in his final two years. An absolute hammer.
Here is the video of Jay winning state as a Senior:
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for? What year did you graduate?
I was a graduate from Algona High School, class of 2003. I got my start in wrestling at the Bullpup Wrestling Club in Algona, put on by Pat Hamilton and Tong Uk Yi, who were also my high school coaches. I was probably in third or fourth grade when I started. Throughout youth wrestling, Bullpup practice and a handful of local tournaments was the extent for me.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My dad was the main driving factor that got my younger brothers and I involved in wrestling. He is a great technician and has a lot of knowledge to draw on. Since Tyler and I were a year apart, we were able to practice and encourage each other in competition.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
Both of my brothers were place winners at state: Tyler placed 2nd (2002) 8th (2003) and 2nd (2004) and Corey placed 7th (2007) My father Randy was on the Algona State Championship team of 1975. My grandpa (mother’s father) Robert Kain placed 3rd at state in 1952 and his twin brother, Richard Kain was a 3x runner-up in 1950, 1951, and 1952.
My other grandpa, Francis Bjustrom, was also a State Champion in 1958.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I placed 7th and 4th at AAU State in junior high. All of the rest of my youth experience was in local tournaments and meets around northern Iowa. I didn’t really have any one rival growing up. I remember always having tough matches with the Emmetsburg boys. I feel like I wrestled each one of the entire team that I grew to know at least once while growing up.
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
As a freshman at 103 lbs, I ended the season early due to a lingering shoulder injury. As a sophomore at 119lbs, I went 0-2 at state. I was disappointed, but being the first time at “The Barn”, I let nerves get the best of me. As a junior at 125lbs, I placed 3rd. I was on the losing side of a close semifinals match, one that I wished I could get back. I remember some very tough competition wrestling back to get 3rd. My senior year at 130lbs, I was a state champion. That year, I remember focusing on control and avoiding risk in each match…all of which lasted up until the finals, which was chaotic and mostly a blur.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I think controlling weight was always the hardest challenge from year to year. I would always start running and changing my eating habits a couple weeks before the season started. My brothers and I would have been lost without Mom helping us out and keeping us grounded. She taught physical ed and health/wellness at the high school. She really helped us learn how to calorie count and get to our target weight in a healthy manner. It really tested my self discipline.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
My main strategy in a match was to outlast the other guy and control the pace, so I put a lot of time into conditioning…my favorite method was running around the section of our farm. Style wise, I was not the best on my feet, but I was very comfortable on the bottom and top and anywhere that I could control with a wrist or under hook. My strength was probably riding guys out and wearing them down.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
Just a couple guys, most of my losses came my freshman year.
Who was your most influential coach?
Aside from my Dad, Tong Uk Yi was a very influential coach for me growing up. He was close to my size, so we were able to wrestle in practice but more than that, his style was the opposite of mine…he’s quick, he likes taking open shots, he likes throws. He was able to put me into situations that put me out of my comfort zone and made me adjust and learn new technique. He also did the scouting of my opponents at state and elsewhere.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
We were very competitive as a team all four years and so was the North Central Conference. Algona was NCC Champions in 2001 and 2003 competing against the likes of Clear Lake, Humboldt, Iowa Falls, Eagle Grove, and Clarion, who were all full of talent. Emmetsburg held us out of the state duals two different years and went on to win, so I think we didn’t have the chance to prove ourselves at a state level. I think we could have placed pretty high, if not 2nd behind Emmetsburg/AR both years.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I can’t say I had one. The Algona teams from the late nineties probably influenced me the most.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
I’ll keep it close to home and give my vote a family friend, Jeff Kerber.
Did you at any point feel overlooked prior to the state tournament? How good did it feel to show everyone that you were just as elite as anyone?
I never remember feeling like I was overlooked at any point, but that is probably because I avoided the chat rooms and weekly results and rankings. I tried to never put much emphasis on anyones past wins and losses. I usually stuck to my training each week and went into most matches statistically blind. I definitely felt fulfilled when I won state, as it was all I could think about for a year. It especially felt good getting Algona back on top of the podium, which hadn’t been done since 1985.
How do you feel about NW Iowa wrestling? Did it make you proud to represent them at the high level you did?
I grew up hearing all of my dads stories of wrestling under Champ Martin and Bill Fjetland in the 70s. It was kind of Algona’s heyday back then but was also very competitive in NW Iowa with Emmetsburg, West Hancock, Eagle Grove, and others. It hasn’t changed much since then, NW Iowa still continues to deliver solid teams. I’m glad that I was able to represent our part of the state, and I am continuing to help out in the wrestling room to help keep our traditions going.
What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?
I’d like to see a team of guys from the 1970’s versus guys from the 2000’s go head to head in a dual. That way Dad and I can put that argument to rest!!
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
I have respect for all the guys that go through four years of high school wrestling. It’s a tough sport and teaches you independence and self discipline.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
All the guys in Algona’s room each year!
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
I was all 90’s country.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Probably losing to Brady Dolan in the semis of the 2002 state tournament. He went on to wrestle your brother, Justin Swafford, in the finals.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I probably would have liked to attend some out of state or national tournaments, just for the experience. I say that now, but at the time was not interested at all. There is definitely a lot of opportunities out there right now for kids of today.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Besides winning state my senior year, I was also proud to win the Bob Sharp Ankeny tournament three times. It was the furthest distance our team traveled and despite the long bus ride, I always felt good going into it.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Tony Bolen(S.Tama), Robert Struthers(E-AR), Jacob Naig(E-AR), Willie Harris(Cre), Dallas Kuper(Osage), Travis Snover(DM-L), Chris Daily(Hum), Wade Saturn(Hum), Mike Zinnel(Hum), Luke Reiland(EG), Brock Woodin(Clarion), Aaron Wernimont(Poc) These are some of guys off the top of my head that I had tough matches with in high school…some of them were more regular. Ive gotten to know a lot of these guys over the years.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Mostly seasonal. I would do freestyle practice and a few tourneys in the spring during high school. Algona also attended the UNI team camp a few years in a row which was fun.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
That’s funny because I always have that discussion with old teammates. My first thought is that we would wax the youngsters of today. I’m sure every generation thinks that though.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I did not. Got to know all the Iowa State guys really well though.
What other sports did you play?
I played golf and football.
What are your favorite sports teams?
I can’t say I watch many sports besides golf on Sundays. Probably say I pull for Phil Mickelson.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I love being outdoors. Fishing and golfing are my big two hobbies. I also spend a lot of my free time on different projects around our acreage.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
It seems that all of the traditions I have gotten used to growing up have drastically changed in the new era of the internet, cell phones, and social media, so bringing my past knowledge and experiences to the guys of today feels like I’m keeping some of those traditions intact.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It has taught me to be independent and taught me how to accept my shortcomings as my own.
What do you do now?
I am back farming with my dad and younger brother Corey.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I still help out in the high school room as a volunteer coach. I show technique and wrestle when I can. I attend home meets and occasionally will travel with the team and help where I can.
Any advice for future wrestlers?
Conditioning and repetition. Two most important factors in wrestling. Don’t skimp.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
I’ll give a shout out to the 2003 Algona Wrestling team and Coaches Brian Morgan, Pat Hamilton, Mike Weier, and Tong Uk Yi.