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Remember The Wrestler: Bryan Blake, Linn-Mar


About time I got someone from Linn-Mar. Home of huge wrestling names such as; Jay Borschel, Matt McDonough, The Engelken’s, the Kray’s, The Wempen’s, Noah Ajram, Shea Hartzler, Alijah Jeffrey, Alex Streicher, Ross Lembeck, etc…I’m leaving out many. Such a solid program with a solid staff in place and they do things the right way…from the youth program up. I know firsthand how scrappy their “Little Lions Youth Wrestling Club” was in my day given the battles I had with both Kray brothers (Jared and Nick) growing up. And Bryan’s dad coached those guys! They had something great going on back then and they maintained it well, for I got to see the younger generation of Lions who were in my younger brothers’ age group as well. Linn-Mar has always generated hammers from their program…some of the best, in fact. And this awesome program wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for guys like Bryan making their marks in their HS wrestling careers. 

Here is the STACKED bracket that Bryan was in at state. 2000 3A 130…. He wrestled 2 close matches against two great wrestlers. He may not have placed like he may have wanted to, but I can tell by the match scores and who he wrestled that he most certainly was right there.

* On a sidenote, this one cracks the top 2-3 for the most well-written rough drafts I’ve ever received from anyone for a RTW article. I can tell that Bryan is a very intelligent dude and I can’t begin to explain how nice it is for me not having to proofread much of what he wrote. A great writer/storyteller along with being a great wrestler!


What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

Little Lions Wrestling Club (Linn-Mar).  I started going when I was a baby, quite literally.  My dad created the club while he was coaching at Linn-Mar.  He would organize a crew of club boys to go to tournaments and then take/coach us all.  He coached until I hit junior high, and then stepped down so I would have a non-parent coaching.  I was hitting the early stage of my rebellious phase, and I think he knew that I needed a coach that I’d listen to despite my pre-teen attitude.


What year did you graduate?

Linn-Mar (Marion), class of 2000.


Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My dad taking me to practices probably sparked my interest.  But it was the team/friends that kept me coming back.  Even the years that I lost interest, they dragged me back in.  I was very much drawn to the social aspect of being on a team.  My closest friends today are the guys that I wrestled with throughout the years, but mostly my high school teammates.


Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My dad wrestled for Marshalltown.  He was a very talented athlete but had many physical/health issues that prevented higher-level achievements.  His high school record was 55-5, but he never made it to State due to late-season illnesses.  He’s also a great golfer.  If you ask him, wrestling was his way of getting in shape for golf season. I beat him in wrestling when I was a sophomore… I’ve still yet to beat him in golf.

I have one sibling, an older sister.  I kind of wish she would’ve wrestled, but female wrestling wasn’t as prevalent back then.  I think she would have done well.  She was a physical beast but didn’t really succeed in many other sports because she was just too physical.  


What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I started out my first little kids tournament with a bang, 8thout of 8.  Apparently, I still had fun because I stuck with it.  Over time, and many losses, I got better.  Right around middle school, I recall finishing in first place more often than not.  

There was a kid my age/weight from Vinton, Jay Bridgewater.  I remember him most.  I don’t think we had much of a rivalry because he never beat me.  He justhappened to be at every tournament that I went to for several years.  One of my favorite Jay memories is when my dad took me to a tournament 2 hours away, instead of the Vinton tournament which was 30 minutes away.  We figured Jay would be at his home tournament and wanted to give him a break from seeing me.  There I was, standing on the scale in the cafeteria, and I hear Jay’s voice behind me say “No…way… dang it!”.  He had also traveled 2-hours out of his way to avoid me, and there we were together again.


What was your record in HS?

I’m not sure my exact record, they didn’t keep good records my freshman/sophomore years.  If I had to guess, I’d say I finished my high school career somewhere above .600.  I remember my freshman year being the worst (8-8), and senior year was best (18-10).  


How did you place at state every year?

I qualified for state my senior year.  I went 0-2, wrestling two very tough and quick opponents.  My bracket could arguably be considered on of the most loaded: Cory Connell, Adam Olaby, Brett Stedman, Jim Tripp, Travis Paulson, Josh Petersen, Ryan Sallis, and Travis Claussen.  

Ryan was my first-round draw, and a rematch from a loss earlier in the season.  Our first match was a blowout, 16-4, he dominated me on our feet and in the top position.  State was a far better showing for me though, despite still losing 10-6.  I was down 8-6 with a few seconds left; I went for broke and busted.  Travis was my consolation match.  All I remember is that he was a physical hammer and struggling to get past his head and hands defense.

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

During my sophomore year, I had an issue making weight between Thanksgiving and Christmas (shocker).  I wasn’t managing my weight whatsoever.  And, rather than working hard and getting back down to weight, I decided to go up a weight.  In retrospect, I took the easy way out and it hurt the team lineup.  It was a very selfish move.  After that, I started picking weights I could manage, and keeping my weight under control the right ways.


How would you describe your wrestling style?

If you ask my practice partners, they’d probably say “annoying”.  But I’d say “deceitful”.  I liked to bait and switch, lull them into a false-comfort and then burst into a move.  I was fast on my feet, and a leech on top.  High-crotches, fireman’s carry, leg-rides and tilts.  I rarely used leg-riding to stall, I was all about wrapping someone up and tilting for back points.

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

I didn’t have many exchanges; it was either always beat or always beaten.  There were less than a handful of guys that I saw numerous times.  It was usually Cedar Rapids Washington; we saw them a lot.  Guys like Kane Richardson as freshmen and Edgar Haynes as a senior.


Who was your most influential coach?

In terms of coaching, my dad.  I learned the most from him; he’s a very cerebral man and coach.  I caught myself, as a coach, teaching kids the exact same lessons he’d taught me decades prior.  This came as a great shock to him when he was observing me coach, because “I could swear you weren’t even listening to me back then”.

On the mat, it’d have to be Dave Dunning.  He was my 7thgrade coach; the first coach I had after my dad.  Dave was deceptively strong, physically manipulative, and psychologically masterful.  I learned so much about the psychology of wrestling from him; how to win before the match even starts, and make a guy want to get off the mat fast by administering “intense legal pain”.  I was undefeated in junior high, and I credit much of that to him.


Was your team competitive in HS?

In the first two years, we could barely field a team.  And the team we had would lose horribly.  I can recall being the lone win at many meets.

We got a new coach, Doug Streicher, my junior year.  Things really turned around from there.  He incorporated many impactful changes like weight training, cardio workouts, and morning practices. It felt like hell, but he really changed the physicality of the team, and the program took off from there.  My senior year, we took 5 qualifiers to state.  Prior to that, we hadn’t had a qualifier since the 80s.


Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Lincoln McIlravy.  He was at Iowa while I was in jh/hs.  Watching him on tv and at Carver was awe-inspiring.  I got some one-on-one time with him at a Gable camp one year.  He taught me the boot scoot.  That was a specialmemory.  Plus, who doesn’t love a mullet!


Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

I want to go with a less traditional answer, as well as pick someone from my generation, and say Trent Paulson.  192-2 career record.  2x class 3A champion.  He just struck me as physically dominating in all positions.  

Are there any wrestlers you’ve seen, past or present that you would compare your style to?

If you ordered Spencer Lee from Wish.com, I’m what’d show up at your doorstep.  You’d be unhappy and call customer service.  He’s fast(er) on his feet and a (great) tilter.

What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?

Why not just have an all-decades champions tournament?  The best at their best.  Hypothetically, they’d all be the high school version of themselves.

I’d also love to start a dialog and get the State Tournament to do an All-Classes Champions bracket: 1A Champ, 2A Champ, and 3A Champ; round-robin for best of the best.

Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?

Cory Connell.  He was the 2000 Class 3A 130lb champ.  Hands like a vice grip!  You could tell that he put in the hard work in the gym.  He’d beat you up, and then tell you about the good things you did.  Respect garners respect.

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Max Murin.  He’s not the best, but you can tell he’s giving it all he has.  I respect the heck out of that guy.  Ice Ice Baby!


What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

Metallica, Godsmack, Megadeth, and basically anything with a fast pace.  Joe Carver was the wrestling room DJ.


What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

There’s only two losses that I recall bothering me.  Most losses never got to me though.  I didn’t have that animal instinct or competitors’ edge.  I loved wrestling for the fun, so that’s what I focused on.  

The first one was because the referee raised the wrong hand.  I won, quite handily, but he raised the wrong hand and my coach didn’t fight to clear it up.  

The second time was at districts my senior year.  I nailed a last second takedown to break the tie/take the lead in the championship match, but the ref called it off.  We went into overtime and I got what I’d consider a takedown.  My opponent quickly reached back and did a neck whip, getting what I’d consider a reversal.  The referee called it no takedown/reversal, and instead a takedown for him.  It felt like a blown call and cost me the better seed at State.

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

Effort.  I did just enough.  Wrestling was fun, and I never took it too seriously.  I regret that.  I wish I cared enough to put in the effort to be better than what was naturally gifted to me.


What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

Accomplishment: Qualifying for state my senior year.  I was the first person from my school in over a decade to qualify, and the only one from my grade.  We started as 12 freshmen, and I was the only one that ever made it to state.  We qualified 5 weights that day, but I was the first. It felt more special because of that.


Memory: After losing the finals match at districts, I sat on my mat and watched the 3rd/4th place match to see if I’d end up having to wrestle again later to determine a true 2ndplace.  They must have had an injury timeout or something because they still had an entire period left to wrestle.  I watched and waited for what felt like an eternity.  As soon as Edgar won, I knew my trip to state was solidified.  I sprang up and ran right past my coach and blast-doubled my sister, who was waiting mat side.  I remember her screaming for me, as she made the same realization.  She has always been my #1 supporter and the loudest scream in the gym.  I then went into the stands to see my parents.  All the parents were so excited for me.  It was truly my greatest wrestling moment.


Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I really got lucky during the regular season. All the studs were at the weights above or below me.  I had good laughs at my teammates’ expense because they always went up against the returning champs while I got guys more my level.  

I wrestled and beat Edgar Haynes probably half a dozen times my senior year.  He was a freshman.  Despite the age gap, he was a solid competitor.  I have no doubts that he would have been a 4-time qualifier if it weren’t for us being on the same side of the bracket at districts.  He finished runner-up his senior year.  I’m just glad I got to face him while he was younger, because I’m sure him as a senior would have beaten me as a senior.


Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

I wrestled almost year-round up until junior high, and then it was just in season.  I don’t know why I stopped, but I wish I hadn’t.  I did a few camps, including the Gable.

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

Of course, I’m biased.  I think boys from my day were stronger and more mentally tough.  Kids now seem to be more technical.  I’d put money on my generation though.


Did you wrestle after high school?

I joined the Navy after high school.  I tried for the first three years to join the Navy team.  

The first year, I pinned my way through tryouts, was offered a spot, but found out that I would have had to give up my rate (job) in order to be a part of the team.  I joined the Navy to make a career out of it and wasn’t on board with giving up my trade-school for wrestling.  The coach told me that the next year, once my schooling was complete, that I could join the team and not lose my rating in the process.  

I showed up to tryouts the second year grossly out of shape but managed to still dominate tryouts.  For the first time in my life, a coach managed to ignite a fire; he told me that I was too out of shape to join his team, and to come back next year ready to not waste either of our time.  That struck me deep, my apathy was impacting others.  So, I trained my ass off for the entire next year.  

I was coming back the third year in the best shape of my life; better conditioned and stronger than I was in high school.  Unfortunately, I tore two ligaments in my left knee three weeks before tryouts.  Because I’m stubborn and stupid, I threw on a monstrous knee brace and showed up to compete.  Despite winning all my matches, everyone could tell that I was debilitated beyond actual competition. It was disappointing to work so hard (for once) and come up short.  But at least I went undefeated in 3 years of tryouts *shrug*.


What other sports did you play?

I pretty much played them all.  Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, golf, track, soccer, etc.  I wrestled all 4 years of high school.  I also golfed (9th and 10th) and ran cross-country (11th and 12th).


What are your favorite sports teams?

Iowa wrestling, football, and basketball (in that order of course).  I accidentally became a Seahawks fan while living out near Seattle.


What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

I’m a total foodie.  I love to cook, plan and prep meals, and grocery shop.  It’s my happy time.

I also play chess daily.  I have an ongoing series against Nic (Schultz), we’ve been playing for almost 7 years.  He beats me at least 80% of the time.


How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I do just about everything I can to keep this sport thriving.  My dad and I volunteer at the high school and little kids’tournaments.  It’s one of the many things that bonds us to the school and each other.

I don’t know what I’d do without wrestling.  I fear the day it goes away.  I used to set my dvr to record wrestling.  I’d even leave my tv on when I went out, if there was a dual that night, just so the ratings saw one extra viewer.


How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

Wrestling shaped my mind around how to deal with difficulty and things not going as planned.  Wrestling really made life in the military so much easier.  Those two combined, I can pretty much deal with any conflict and manage all stressors.


What do you do now?

I’m currently a Compliance Manager with Collins Aerospace.  It’s mostly just paperwork and making sure we’re following government regulations.  It’s detail-oriented work, which I kind of enjoy.  Prior to this, I was in quality assurance roles for about 15+ years.  The Navy was my kickstart into aerospace, electronic engineering, and quality assurance.


Are you still involved with wrestling?

Not as much as I’d like to be.  I keep telling myself that I’m going to get certified to referee… I keep saying that next year will be the year.


Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Do what makes you happy.  I never pressured myself to be better and made it clear that I wrestled just for the fun.  If at any time it stopped being fun, I would’ve quit. I knew it, parents knew it, and the coaches knew it.

For the ones that want to be the best: Sacrifice what others won’t.  Get as much experience as possible.  Watch training videos, go to camps, examine your match films, and pay attention to what’s making others successful.  Start going to the State tournament long before you’re old enough to be there yourself, soak in the ambiance and get comfortable with the size of the crowd.  And, when you get your turn at the tournament, don’t change your winning formula.


Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Why not?  I’m twice the size that I used to be, so don’t expect to see me taking lightweight shots against the heavyweights.

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

My brothers from other mothers:  Matt Kluesner, Nick Kelly, Andrew Engelken, Pat Neilly, and Jared Kray.  They were all the grade below me.

Nic Schultz.  He was two grades above me… he went from being the hazing upperclassman to my coworker, chess nemesis, and close friend now.

I’d love to see if Edgar Haynes hears word of this.  We wrestled probably half a dozen times his freshman/my senior year.  He was a little beast that I quickly learned not to tie up with.  I beat him every time and was the sole reason that he didn’t go to state all four years.  It’s great to see that he made it to state the following years.  I remember him being very talented, as well as humble in defeat.  We would dogfight like madmen, and then sit and chat after the meet like it never happened.


Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

I heard my neighbor’s name on one of the Pin Doctors videos as a placer and before that point, I didn’t know that he wrestled. His name is Bill Bollman from West Union. He placed 5th at 2A 112 in 1985.

My senior year, I broke the school record for reversals and escapes in a season.  As Matt likes to remind me, that just means that I got taken down a lot.  The records were mine for a whopping 3 years.  A kid that I coached, and basically gave away all my secrets to, broke them both by one.  20 years later, he is still the record holder… and I’mstill salty.

Mom of the Year Award:  I’m in high-school, junior or senior year.  I’m scrapping hard with this guy and, mid-action, the ref blows the whistle.  At the time, I had no clue why we’re being stopped.  Something… someonecaught the corner of my eye, and I looked over to the side of the mat.  It’s my mom.  She was standing at the edge of the gymnasium floor, outstretched on one leg, reaching out onto the mat.  It hit me; she was trying to hand the referee her glasses.  I heard her say: “Here!  You need these more than I do!”.  She got kicked out of the tournament, rightfully so.  We still tease her about it.  That woman is an absolute lunatic, but also the best wrestling mom (loud, supportive, and packed the best coolers).  Her and Sue (Nick’s mom) were quite the dynamic duo… when they stayed parked in the bleachers

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