UNDERWOOD, Iowa — Taylor Curtis and Andrew Foutch both wanted that spot.
As freshmen late in the fall of 2009, the Underwood wrestlers combined to weigh maybe 200 pounds. The 103-pound position in the varsity lineup awaited the winner of a preseason wrestle-off.
Foutch won by pin early in the match. It marked the beginning of Foutch's breakthrough season while Curtis opened his prep career at a JV meet.
Three years later, both still share a goal — standing at the top of an Iowa state tournament podium. With Curtis (106 pounds) and Foutch (126) each ranked No. 1 at their weight in Class 1-A, the dream is possible. But their approaches to making it a reality couldn't be more different.
“The personalities, it's kind of a cool thing because they're on the opposite ends of the board,” Eagles coach Joe Stephens said. “Curtis you can't make shut up, and Foutch you can't make talk.
“You don't have to have a cookie-cutter way to be good. They're polar opposites in a lot of ways but they're exactly the same in others.”
Foutch, a physical “pin master,” has reached the state semifinals three times, including a finals appearance as a sophomore in attempting to become the school's first individual champion since Scott Hazen in 2005. Sporting a 26-0 record this year, Foutch could also become Iowa's all-time wins leader. He needs 27 more to break the record of 207 set by Centerville's T.J. Sebolt (2003-06). Barring injuries, cancellations and tournament byes, that could happen as soon as districts next month.
“I look at it this way: In order to get the state wins (record), I have to get the state title,” Foutch said. “That's pretty much how it goes.”
Conversely, Curtis is used to working from behind. Weighing about 95 pounds as a freshman, he eventually won the varsity spot at 112. In the same class the next year, still undersized, he reached state and finished 33-19.
Last season, he broke through with a 56-4 record. He lost 1-0 in the state semifinal to the eventual champion, though he gained more attention for beating Eddyville-Blakesburg's Megan Black in the second round.
Like Foutch, he finished third overall.
“I made a huge jump then,” Curtis said. “I go into a match now and say that this kid can't beat me. I'm going in with the mindset that I'm the best wrestler and I have to act like that.
“I never really thought I'd be where I'm at now, but now I look back and say that if you work hard and can set a goal and believe in that goal, you can go at it.”
Curtis, who has signed to wrestle at Southwest Minnesota State, is 25-1 this winter. His lone loss came Tuesday night — a double-overtime setback to Class 3-A No. 9 Colton Clingenpeel, a freshman from Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson.
But Stephens saw Curtis take ownership even after losing an unblemished record. The senior immediately headed to a back hallway and began running sprints. At Underwood, it's a wrestler's way of making up for work not done during a match.
“The good kids will never remember the kids they beat,” Stephens said. “They'll remember the one that got away.”
For all his accomplishments, Foutch is far more motivated by his 13 career defeats. During an emotional week at state last year, he suffered a 6-0 upset in the semifinals after essentially getting ridden out for most of three periods.
That came a few days after a controversial call went against him in the state dual championship round. Holding a 13-6 lead, Foutch unleashed a slam that referees deemed illegal. His opponent from Nashua-Plainfield declared himself unable to continue and it cost the unbeaten Eagles a chance at their first dual crown.
The experience was a wake-up call for Foutch. Verbally committed to St. Cloud State (Minn.), he spent much of the summer working on improving in the down position. And no more going through the motions in practices or against overmatched opponents.
“Honestly, I never thought I would be the best going out there growing up,” Foutch said. “I could never win it in little league — I was always third or fourth or fifth or something. I never started to believe in that until my sophomore year.”
With a repeat dual run improbable — Underwood has carried six or seven open weights all year — emphasis is on individual success. It's why Curtis works relentlessly with a personal trainer in Neola and Foutch still waits three days a week for Stephens to open the weight room at 6:30 a.m.
Different paths. But both are still headed in the same direction.
“It's kind of a first or last thing, really,” Curtis said. “If my record is really good but I can't win the state title, hopefully I can go down saying I worked my hardest trying.”