DES MOINES - To the statewide wrestling spectators the Class 1A 132-pound weight class is perhaps the most intriguing bracket at this week's traditional state wrestling tournament and it's all because of two marquee individuals.
South Hamilton junior JD Rader is certainly a headlining name, too, only he's not part of that two-man spotlight. And that's just fine with him.
Top-ranked sophomore Carter Happel of Lisbon and No. 2 junior Hunter Washburn of Alburnett are on a collision course to meet in the quarterfinals on Friday - a day earlier than when most fans had hoped to see them square off on the big stage Saturday night. Also in their half of the bracket is No. 3 Rader, making the race to the finals as tough as they come.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
"That sucks for Carter and Hunter that they have to wrestle in the quarters," Rader, who takes an unblemished 37-0 record into the state tournament, said. "I'm going to have to beat the best anyway, so it doesn't bother me that I'm on the same side (of the bracket) as them and I don't mind that they get the attention. I don't really care. It doesn't motivate me or anything like that."
Rader is a quiet kid. He's polite; humble. And it takes a lot to get him rattled, which is why he's been able to win a pair of medals in his two previous stops at state. But he's not going to hide from his goals; he wants to beat whoever steps in front of him and make it to the finals.
Maybe most important - he has faith in his own set of skills.
"I trust my training and mentality a lot more this year," Rader, who is a not too shabby 111-12 so far in his career, said. "I'm never nervous, even against the tougher opponents."
Rader will open up this evening against first-time state qualifier Kyle Green (31-18) of Sibley-Ocheyedan when the 1A session begins at 7 p.m. Win and he moves right into Fridays' quarterfinals against either Cody Brown (32-8) of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont or Tucker Blumi (34-15) of River Valley.
The thought of facing either Happel or Washburn in Friday night's semifinals is the 10,000-pound elephant in the room, but Rader insists he's not thinking that far ahead.
"I can't overlook my next few opponents because at state they're all good," Rader said. "To get (to the semifinals) I've got to stay focused. I can't be thinking just about that match."
Happel (49-0) and Washburn (34-5) are a combined 3-for-3 in winning state titles. Both appeared to be destined to join the four-time champions club until they found themselves in the same weight class this winter. They met twice during the regular season and Happel won both by decision.
Rader has faced both guys ranked in front of him during the offseason. He's more familiar with Happel, who he beat at a freestyle tournament in Fort Madison last spring. That win gives Rader the confidence that he can compete with the talented sophomore if and when the time comes this week.
"Carter and I are pals. We've wrestled quite a few times and whenever we see each other we say hi," Rader said. "(Beating Happel) helps a little bit. It gives me some confidence that maybe it's in his head that I can beat him."