If Central senior Adam Grell was going to qualify for his third straight trip to the state wrestling tournament, he was going to have to do it the hard way.
He would not have had it any other way.
Grell, a 2019 inductee into the Central DeWitt Hall of Fame, entered the postseason in 2002 with a 32-2 record and a No. 8 ranking.
State rankings are special. Only 140 wrestlers in each of the three classes — this February, more than 1,100 2A grapplers competed at sectional meets — are bestowed with a ranking.
But you needed one just to not feel left out at the 135-pound weight class at the 2A district meet hosted by Davenport Assumption.
Grell — and his No. 8 ranking — was actually the lowest-ranked wrestler among the four grapplers vying for the two spots to state.
Grell’s semifinal foe, West Liberty’s Ian Alke was ranked seventh, while in the other semifinal Assumption Trevor Arbogast — the returning 130-pound state champion — was ranked fourth and was set to battle Mediapolis’ Aaron Drain, who was ranked sixth.
All told, the four wrestlers competing for a spot at state sported a combined record of 137-12.
It was a welcome challenge for Grell, who was “unusual,” according to head wrestling coach Kurt Kreiter, because “he demanded hard practices.”
Grell pinned Alke in 86 seconds and then toppled Drain, 8-6, to win the district title.
Add in an overtime victory over Arbogast in the sectional finals and Grell had defeated the No. 4, 6 and 7 wrestlers just to make it to the state tournament.
His memorable postseason was far from over. Grell opened his state tournament with a fall in just 13 seconds — still tied for the 16th-fastest in state history — and then erased a 5-4 deficit over the final six seconds of a 7-5 victory over third-ranked Maury Noonan, of Emmetsburg.
That brought Grell to the semifinals, where the senior never trailed in a 9-6 victory over Waterloo Columbus freshman Kyle Forness.
The victory sent Grell to the finals at 135 pounds, making him the Sabers’ ninth state finalist and the first since Chad Rowson in 1996.
Grell’s quest for a state title came to an end in the finals as top-ranked Michael Wells, of Clarinda, wrapped up a perfect 48-0 season.
Ultimately, Grell finished 39-3 in his senior campaign — the 39 victories were then the second-most in one season — and his 133 takedowns still rank second in program history.
After winning 26 matches as a freshman, including the first of four Big Bend titles — Grell became just the third Big Bend wrestler to win four conference titles — Grell was even better as a sophomore, going 36-7 and finishing sixth at the state tournament.
The 15 technical falls and 87 near falls accrued that season are still school records and outpace even his closest contemporaries (Grell has six more technical falls and 20 more nearfalls than Daniel Clark, who is second in both categories).
Grell won 30 more matches as a junior, but that season ended with a disappointing state experience.
That provided more than enough motivation for someone who Kreiter still calls the hardest worked he has ever coached.
“I think losing at state last year helped me out a lot this year,” Grell said during his postseason run in 2002. “I hated that feeling when I was at state last year… I couldn’t stand it.”
Grell finished his career as the second all-time winningest wrestler in program history, going 131-26, and is the program leader in both career nearfalls (187) and technical falls (25).
In addition to his prowess on the wrestling mat, Grell also participated in baseball and football and was a member of the FFA.
The Sabers’ nose guard on the gridiron. Grell earned honorable mention all-district honors as a senior after he led the Sabers with four sacks, logged 54 tackles and recovered a fumble.
After attending Clinton Community College and St. Ambrose, Grell earned his bachelor’s degree in education and has returned to the Central DeWitt district as a physical education teacher, while also acting as an assistant coach for the Sabers wrestling team.
“Adam is the epitome of what I want a Central wrestler to be,” Kreiter said back in 2002. “He is a hard worker and a leader.”