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IN THE RACE, BUT ON THE CHASE

WEBSTER CITY – Conventional wisdom suggests that Clarion-Goldfield-Dows should walk away from Saturday’s 47th North Central Conference wrestling tournament with the heftiest piece of hardware.

The Cowboys are the reigning Class 1A state dual champion and the current No. 2-ranked team in the state’s smallest class, according to the folks over at The Predicament who painstakingly put out the individual rankings. They’re No. 1 in the IWCOA?dual team poll.

CGD is well on its way to claiming the NCC dual team title as well. And that just leaves the league tournament, scheduled for 10 a.m. at Clear Lake High School, as the last hurdle left to clear.

It might not be that cut and dry, however.

“I think it’s as even as it’s been in a long time,” Webster City coach Chad Hisler said when asked about Saturday’s NCC field that will feature five returning individual champions and 17 ranked grapplers. “On paper Clarion is the favorite, but we’re not about to concede it to anybody. I think there are five teams that are pretty even.”

Webster City enters the fray as the reigning champion, and the Lynx have won three of the last four titles. Expect Clear Lake, Humboldt and Hampton-Dumont to apply the pressure on the Cowboys as well.

It will likely take a handful of upsets – from its camp as well as others – for WCHS to make a push for another crown. From 106 to heavyweight, the Lynx may be as balanced as any crew in the NCC, but they lack a long list of heavy hitters. That’s why the backside of all 14 brackets will be crucial in their quest for another trophy.

“The backside is really going to make a difference,” Hisler said. “In the past few years we’ve been a team that can put 14 guys out there that can score and we definitely talk to the guys about that.”

CGD has won the team title just once, but has finished second behind WCHS twice in the past three years. The Cowboys certainly have the star power with 2014 state champion and No. 1-ranked 120-pounder Josh Portillo, as well as his brother Justin Portillo, the No. 1-ranked guy at 106 who was second at state last year. Also a state silver medalist in 2014, No. 6-ranked 132-pounder Joel Haberman will attempt to become just the seventh four-time NCC champion.

Clear Lake isn’t lacking for firepower at the lower weights either with No. 2 (2A) Brennen Doebel (113), No. 2 Ryan Schmalen (120) and No. 1 Ryan Leisure (126).

Doebel and Josh Portillo joined Haberman as NCC champs last winter. Also back to defend the gold will be Clear Lake’s Ryan Faught (ranked No. 7 at 145) and Algona’s Joe Teague (No. 2 at 182).

There’s the potential for several high-profile meetings, but that’s only if wrestlers compete where they’re ranked. Hisler is of the opinion that there will be some shifting in an attempt to maximize points.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I think some people are going to move around … you just don’t know where they’re all going to be.”

There will also be some movement in the Lynx lineup. Ryan Ferrari will drop down to 152 and Collin Oswald will make the move to 145. That pushes freshman Zane Williams – a season-long 145-pounder – all the way up to 160.

Ferrari has earned most of his 26 victories at 160, but Hisler says this move shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“He’s wrestled a little bit at 152 and that’s always been his intention,” Hisler said. “From here on out, he’ll probably be at 152.”

The Lynx best chances for individual titles could come at 170 and heavyweight from Antrez Conley and Gavin Dinsdale, but both will have to climb new mountains to get there.

Conley has beaten five ranked individuals this season, but he’s also dropped a pair of matches to foes that are likely to be in his bracket on Saturday. Dinsdale is 30-1 and ranked No. 6 (2A), but he’ll be the underdog in a loaded field that includes top-ranked (2A) and 2013 state runner-up Mario Pena of Hampton-Dumont.

Pena has won all three previous meetings against Dinsdale, including 2-1 in the first tiebreaker as last season’s NCC tournament.

Algona’s previously ranked (2A) Chandler Holmes also has the ability to make waves at heavyweight.

“I think (Dinsdale’s) been looking forward to this challenge of trying to win the title all year,” Hisler said. “He’ll be ready to go, but he can’t just plan on wrestling Pena. He’s got to win other matches before he gets there.”