SIOUX CITY — The wrestling playoffs are upon us, but Mars wrestler Ayden Hoag isn’t nervous at all.
It’s been a special season so far for the Bulldogs’ sophomore, who is ranked No. 3 in Class 3A at 220 pounds. On January 27, Hoag defeated Warren Summers of Council Bluffs Lincoln to win the MRAC conference title, the second straight year he has won an MRAC crown.
This year though, there are bigger things on his mind.
Hoag won the RMCA title last year at 182 pounds, but ended up placing third in the district meet, one spot shy of his first state tournament appearance.
Now, a year and two weight classes later, a trip to Wells Fargo Arena is within reach.
Towards the end of last season, Hoag jokingly told his coaches that he wanted to move up two weight classes to 220. After weighing around 230 pounds at the end of the season, what started as a joke has started to come true.
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“He’s a big boy and he’s strong,” Mars coach Shane Hessenius said. “He has grown a lot in recent years. When he was young, he didn’t look like he does now. Seeing him grow and grow in his body, and being able to use him, because kids often don’t grow that fast and they can move like him.
Hoag has had a lot of success since moving to 220. With a week to go until the Class 3A, District 3 meet, Hoag is 41-3 this season.
Last year, Hoag was generally the heaviest wrestler in every match he entered.
That’s not the case this year, but Hoag has been even more dominant.
“I thought they would be a lot stronger, but I’ve put on so much muscle this summer that I’m the one stronger than all of them,” Hoag said. “They’re a lot bigger than me because I’m around 210, and I’ll have someone there at around 222. Last year I was walking around around 195, and I have to cut down to 182, so I would be the greatest. This year, I am the smallest.
For Hoag, the district’s failure last season is a powerful motivator. Just three points separated him from a chance to fight at Wells Fargo Arena, after losing in the 182-pound semifinal to Fort Dodge’s Ben Egli, 7-4.
Those three points have stuck with him over the past 12 months, pushing him to work even harder during his off-season training.
When he needed a boost, he thought back to that loss and dug deep, forcing himself to do three more reps to atone for those three points that sent him home last February.
Even at 41-3, defeats eat away at him.
“He doesn’t like to lose and he will work for that,” Hessenius said. “So I like that about him. You always worry about a kid who doesn’t care about losing, and he’s doing just fine. He’s got a few losses, and when that happens he’s able to think things through and think things through. ‘improve. But he’s still not really happy about it.
At No. 3 in Class 3A, Hoag is recognized as one of Iowa’s top 220-pounders. He’s currently one spot ahead of Spencer’s Logan Huckfelt, who he’s already beaten three times this season, and behind only No. 1-ranked Ben Kueter of Iowa City High and No. 2 Hunter Blomgren of Norwalk.
Hoag said he doesn’t care much about the rankings, but admits he finds his motivation in being overlooked.
At the start of the season, he looked up the 220-pound rankings on IAwrestle.com, and his name was nowhere to be found.
“I saw the standings at the start of the season, and I wasn’t there,” Hoag said. “I knew it was wrong, but I don’t try to watch them that much. I don’t care what your rank is, I keep attacking you with everything I have. I think I should be higher than three, one or two, but I still have to prove it.
He will have his chance to prove it this Saturday at the district meeting in Fort Dodge. It won’t be easy, with a fourth win over Spencer’s Huckfelt likely needed to earn Hoag a spot in the state.
With so much at stake, some nerfs would be understandable.
“I’m not nervous, I’m ready for this,” Hoag said. “I’m excited for this, and I just have to keep working and grinding. I’m excited.”