Strub, Keehner claim seventh and eighth place at state

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Gatlin Keehner (left) and Chase Strub capped off their high school wrestling careers by taking home medals from the state wrestling tournament. Both wrestlers said sticking with the sport through good times and bad helped shape their journeys, and advised the younger wrestlers in attendance to keep at it. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

MFL MarMac's Chase Strub placed seventh in the class 1A 195-pound weight class at the state wrestling tournament, held Feb. 19-21 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Photos courtesy of the Iowa Newspaper Association)

Bulldog Gatlin Keehner placed eighth in the class 1A 285-pound weight class at the state wrestling tournament, held Feb. 19-21 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Photos courtesy of the Iowa Newspaper Association)

During a welcome back celebration for Strub and Keehner on Sunday, coach Chet Bachman (left) shared his thoughts on the season and the tournament. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Both Chase Strub and Gatlin Keehner returned to MFL MarMac High School Sunday as state wrestling medal winners. Strub placed seventh in the class 1A 195-pound weight class, while Keehner was eighth in the 285-pound weight class.

The tournament, held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines from Feb. 19-21, was the first trip to state for Strub and Keehner, who are both seniors.

The first round was tough for both wrestlers, as Strub lost 5-3 in overtime to Brennen Grimm of English Valleys, the eventual third-place winner. Keehner came out on the wrong end of a 9-3 decision to Clarksville’s Skyler Popham, who claimed sixth place.

However, Strub and Keehner rebounded in their next matches, with Strub picking up a 15-0 technical fall over Pleasantville’s Joe Kauffman and Keehner a pin of Bryce Brown from Sigourney-Keota.

Strub and Keehner started Friday strong, as Strub pinned Jed Van’t Hof of West Lyon and Keehner picked up a fall over Houston Coleman of Sibley-Ocheyedan.

Momentum stalled in the next, and final, round of the day when Strub lost a 9-2 decision to Nashua-Plainfield’s Tyler Larson, who placed fifth. Keehner also lost a decision, falling 8-3 to Sawyer Hulshizer of Saint Ansgar, the eventual fourth-place winner.

Strub and Keehner took to the mat Saturday in their respective seventh/eight place matches, both assured of a medal. Strub won a 7-1 decision over Hunter Johnston of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, claiming seventh place. Keehner lost a 10-4 decision to Tim Butcher of Manson Northwest Webster, thus taking eighth place.

Head coach Chet Bachman, speaking to the crowd gathered at a welcome back celebration Sunday afternoon, said Strub and Keehner fed off one another throughout the tournament.

“They both stayed focused and got it done,” he said. “What a tribute to take two wrestlers down [to the tournament] and bring two medals back. A lot of schools don’t have that luxury. It’s a battle down there.”

Bachman credited Strub for wrestling up a weight class throughout the season.

“Chase gave up 15 pounds. With his mind he was beating kids. He didn’t quit,” Bachman said, noting that, with 1:04 left in Strub’s final match, he and assistant coach Tracy Decker urged Strub to ride his opponent, to not let go. “He responded.”

Bachman also praised Keehner for remaining determined and focused.

“[Keehner] went after it,” he said. “His last kid was a horse.”

Winning medals was a neat way for the two to end their high school wrestling careers, Bachman added.

“Wrestling’s tough,” he said, pride for his wrestlers showing through. “They’ve been together a long time. They’ve put in a lot of time, not just a little time. It’s a lot of years of hard work.”

Ending their careers at state left a big impression on Keehner and Strub, as well.

“That first day, stepping on the mat, there weren’t words to describe it,” Keehner said, “knowing that I wouldn’t be there next year. It’s an experience I hope others can have.”

“I’m sad it’s over,” Strub added. “It hasn’t really hit yet.”

Both wrestlers said sticking with the sport through good times and bad helped shape their journeys, and advised the younger wrestlers in attendance to keep at it.

“I’ll always remember, when I was in seventh grade, I never won a single match,” Keehner shared. “In eighth grade, I only lost once. Stick it out, even when you’re not doing your best. When you don’t win, you learn.”

“Never give up,” Strub added. “Toward the end of middle school, I saw the high school wrestlers all sweaty and beat up, and I didn’t know if I should do it, but I ended up doing it.”

Strub also shared a story from his early years, when he went to his first camp in sixth grade.

“It was the toughest camp I went to,” he said. “I remember crying every night. I went through a lot.”

Those camps, though, are what push wrestlers over the top, he said.

“For all the young kids: go to all the matches and camps you can in the off season. It pays off,” he said.

Strub  and Keehner were quick to thank their family, friends and coaches for supporting them over the years. Bachman said it was certainly a group effort.

“It’s neat to put another photo in the trophy case,” he said. “It’s a tribute to the program, coaches and all who are involved, from the youth to high school level. It’s a community effort when we do something like this.”

Looking up to see supporters in the stands throughout the tournament meant a lot, he added.

“I take so much pride in our school colors and what we do, and I take pride in seeing those in the stands,” he said. “When I looked up and could see that, that says we have good support. For a small, rural community, that says something about our future. I’d like the young kids to feed off that and keep going.”

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